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Last year brought about the harsh reality that students wishing to study at universities within England will graduate with three times as much debt as in previous years.  With an education now increasingly seeming like a commodity… a financial privilege… rather than a right of passage, many are forced to look outside of England to provide their ‘future’.

Any student currently on Facebook will have seen ads popping up left, right and centre attempting to entice them to study across a range of universities in Europe, and worldwide.  One in particular, having caught my eye on a daily basis, is the University of Southern Denmark (USD).  Its Facebook page is alive and thriving, having raked in over 10,000 new visitors since the New Year, adding to its total of 175,000.  Inviting content is posted daily, encouraging people unhappy in their current academic institutions to literally ‘up sticks’ and move abroad.  The page makes this university sound like some kind of safe-haven institution, where dreams come true, life doesn’t revolve around managing loans and overdrafts, and international students are cherished and fostered to excel in their field.  Why is it that you feel more welcome to a university, outside of your own country? It’s simple.  This university appears to be thinking about much more than just your current education, they’re helping plan your future career.  Ideally a secure tax-paying one, in their own country.

So what motivates students to choose your institution?  To decide to spend (their parents’) hard earned cash with you?  Students aren’t really noticing reduced fees… or financial incentives… they’re noticing what’s put in front of them… what’s popping up on their homepages… what’s ‘cool’ (can we still say ‘cool’ or is that a bit early ‘90s?) and what seems to present a real shot at a career, at the other end.  Students aren’t used to having academic institutions involved in their online social life and those that do, stand out as ‘a little bit different’.

The more likes a Facebook page has, whether it’s for a network provider or a chocolate bar, the more popular it becomes and the more popular it becomes, the more likely people are going to jump on the band wagon and experience it for themselves.  The exact same thing is beginning to happen with universities and academic institutions.  People can judge them through their exposure online and develop opinions from there.  When the message focuses so clearly, as in the case of USD, on future employment, as well as educational value, it becomes a compelling proposition.

Every year the percentage of British students studying abroad, whether it’s for the duration of the course or just a semester, increases.  If other academic institutions, like USD, begin promoting what they can offer through social media sites and the web and providing insights into why exactly they should be your first choice, students will start to sit up (wake up) and take note.

USD has gone to great lengths to market itself internationally.  They have created a different page for each language of current and potential international students – that’s over 10 interactive pages, continuously providing information, encouragement and ‘marketing’ appeal.  If we take a look at the University of Newcastle in England, where the business school describes itself as being “internationally renowned”, with approximately 30% of students coming from overseas, we can see an enormous difference in how they communicate their apparently most important assets, foreign students.  As far as Newcastle’s social media is concerned there is zero stimulating outreach to ‘internationals’.  They own one Facebook account, in one language; English.  One could argue that UK institutions need to ‘get back in the game’.  To familiarise themselves with their target audience, commit to their standings and show students just how concerned they really are regarding this financially worthwhile education.  In short, perhaps the message ought to focus on the value they deliver, rather than financial reaction tactics?  In talking to real, individual people, rather than revenue streams?

Simply through promoting relevant content along with appealing photos, intriguing statistics and material of previous experience USD’s initiative to encourage international students to study with them is proving incredibly popular.  Whether or not, in reality, it actually is, the grass definitely looks greener (and cheaper) on the other side.

This article was written by Katy Jones, a new Elephant Creative Associate, currently studying at Newcastle University.  Elephant Creative regularly works with students and recent graduates, helping them to develop freelance business, marketing and copywriting careers.