Today’s interview is with Nancy Donna Cooke, the International Recruitment Manager at Liverpool Hope University (www.hope.ac.uk). I first met Nancy about three years ago at a recruitment event in Sri Lanka. She is one of the most dedicated international recruiters I know and often found in far-flung locations extolling the virtues of Liverpool Hope to prospective international students. Here is what she has to say about her work.
1. How many years have you been working in international student recruitment? How did you get into the profession and what were you doing before?
I have been working in international student recruitment for around six years now – gosh time flies! My career has been pretty varied, including working in marketing, public relations and as an English language teacher. I had lived and worked overseas in my early adult life so for me international student recruitment brings together everything I have done in the past and everything that I love – gaining and using my knowledge of different cultures, developing my marketing skills, and particularly working with students. My job is a real privilege.
2. Which countries do you regularly travel to for student recruitment? Do you have a favourite country to recruit in and why?
My institution is smaller than most UK universities and geared towards arts, humanities, education and social science. We don’t offer engineering and the hard science subjects that tend to be popular with many students who choose the UK. So it follows that the countries I travel to are in-line with what I can offer and where my university has a good fit. It is impossible to travel to all countries where you have student enquiries, so I tend to focus on regions so the travel is more achievable! I mainly work in South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan), West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana), Hong Kong and parts of China and Thailand. I have a colleague who looks after US which I cover sometimes, so I have been known to travel the other way around the world!
It is really difficult to have a favourite country as there are characteristics about every one that I love. Usually my favourite is the one I am travelling to! I have more of a passion for developing countries than those in the developed world. Each country has its own challenges to education but I have a particular interest in capacity building and really enjoy working on projects that have a very tangible positive effect for development, such as targeted scholarships, or partnerships where knowledge sharing results in policy development. I am currently working on research for my second postgraduate qualification which looks at measuring benefits of student mobility to overall education policy. It’s an interesting project.
3. Do you find students in one country are different from students in another, and do you have to alter or modify your recruitment style to depending on which country you are in?
There are definitely patterns to what students from one country are interested in, so you often know what questions to be prepared for. But it is important to keep in mind that each student will have individual needs and it is really important to contextualise the British way of life, the education system and its expectations to what is offered in the home country and what they have experienced themselves. The best way to answer questions is often to ask more questions.
Students do differ by country, but they also differ within countries, particularly when you are working in large countries such as India or China. I remember when I first started working in recruitment, during my first cohort of students I was so worried because we had around fifty percent of students from India on one course. Because our intakes are small this wasn’t a high number but I always try to maintain a broad geographical reach to ensure we are offering a real international experience. However, when I spoke with the students they truly felt they were in a global classroom, not just because they were meeting students from across the world, but they were meeting students from across their own country who spoke different languages, practised different religions and enjoyed different cultures. It was something that they really appreciated and surprised me.
There are some general principles in marketing techniques that you can apply within different countries, for example, radio reaches out well in Africa, or restrictions on some social media makes it difficult to use in China. But I think it is important to always question and revise what you do. The international student recruitment landscape is constantly changing and it only takes a sniff of a change in government policy for students to rethink their plans, and then we have to rethink our recruitment plans.
4. Where do you see yourself going from here, professionally?
Although the main focus of my work is international student recruitment, it is such a small part of the whole internationalisation agenda, and I love working on projects such as partnership development which clearly show two-way benefits. I think because it ties in with my passion for international development issues, so I can see myself working on policy development and delivery in the future, either within the university sector or in an NGO.