I write this article as the UK enters a time of uncertainty with Brexit shadowing over us all and many questions being raised on what it means for international recruitment.

Having worked in the education sector for nearly 10 years, I have experienced the challenges facing independent schools around the UK. Over the last few years, schools have started creating international departments to specifically focus on overseas recruitment and in some cases opening overseas offices abroad. Figures published by the ISC in 2018 showed that in the last 20 years overseas boarders have risen by 115% in comparison to a fall in UK boarders of 57% – we must ask ourselves whether this is because of demand or whether independent schools are becoming more dependent on international pupils to fill empty beds. The importance of international marketing couldn’t be more important and maintaining an international presence is critical for a school’s continued success.

How do we raise our brand awareness abroad when our budgets are being cut?

Many schools take part in extensive overseas travel throughout the year in order to promote themselves directly to parents and agents, but for smaller schools with smaller budgets this can be challenging. Remember, it isn’t about how many fairs you can attend and how many countries you visit, establishing good partnerships takes time and don’t expect immediate results.

Start by growing your agent network, there are a number of respected websites which give schools the opportunity to identify and communicate with new worldwide reference checked agents, but remember there are also many UK based agents and you can establish partnerships without having to go abroad. Meeting agents in the UK is a cost effective way of promoting your school to an overseas market – it is also very likely that these agents will visit your school in order to get a full understanding of what you offer – we all know that getting agents and families across the threshold can be challenging but once achieved, retention is much greater.

The powers of social media…

We mustn’t forget about the powers of social media when promoting our schools, however, it isn’t all about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As schools targeting overseas markets, we need to establish ourselves on social media platforms abroad, such as WeChat, Kontakt, ok.ru, Youku etc. Developing a social media committee within your school with overseas students can help generate relevant content including news, videos and photos.

WeChat for example, is the largest networking app in China, which has replaced email, starting to replace credit cards and is now the number one app used by agents for contacting schools, prospective families and sharing news and updates. More and more schools are using WeChat as part of their daily communication with agents. Admissions and marketing staff have personal accounts to share information with agents and families, for carrying out video interviews and processing applications. There are also opportunities for schools to develop their own WeChat business page enabling them to share public articles, video, links etc – the opportunities are endless.

With the majority of social media networks being free of charge (paid advertising available) there is no reason why schools shouldn’t be exploring their options when raising brand awareness online.

Why should a family choose a school in the UK?

This should be with first question you look at answering when promoting your school abroad, forget about selling your school first. With increased competition from Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand, as a sector, we need to give agents and families reasons on why they should choose the UK as a place of study; you can then follow up and focus on the USP’s of your school.

By David Milner, International Marketing Manager of Sedbergh School & Board Director for AMCIS