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12 takeaways from EAB’s spring 2022 roundtable for senior university leaders

In March 2022, EAB gathered senior leaders in London from universities across the U.K. and Ireland to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the sector, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Read on to review some of the main takeaways from the sessions, as well as perspectives from leaders in the room responding to the latest EAB research.

Sizing the near- and long-term effects of the pandemic on international enrolment

1. Leaders from most institutions fear they’re leaving international student enrolments on the table

Universities historically haven’t effectively leveraged the key strengths and differentiators that resonate with international prospects. Work is now underway to identify institutional stakeholders, unique experiences, and high-value opportunities that have drawn international students in the past. The next step is improving and communicating those opportunities to grow the pipeline.

‘We know that we want-and need-to increase our international student enrolment in a strategic way. But we’ve been somewhat lazy, always relying on the same markets and the same programmes. That’s not a sure bet anymore. We need an entire mindset shift.’

2. In the wake of the pandemic, international students are increasingly price sensitive, prompting tough questions about balancing mission and finances

Leaders are grappling with the tension between a more diversified portfolio to minimise risk exposure and the tangible costs to realise that objective, given that emerging source markets tend to be more price sensitive. Consequently, more institutions are starting to consider a pricing and aid strategy that balances the goals of diversification and financial sustainability.

‘We want to recruit from and provide education to markets that have historically been ignored. But we’re going to have to put our money where our mouth is, as we can’t expect those students to pay full freight.’

3. Current students and academic staff remain largely under-leveraged in the recruitment process

Prospective students crave authentic connections and the opportunity to explore what it’s ‘really’ like at a university, beyond the glossy marketing materials. Current international students and academic staff have informal networks that can help grow the brand and prospect pipeline. Best of all, this ‘inside-out’ strategy requires fewer resources to execute.

‘It’s a challenging time, and we’re hesitant to ask more of our students and staff. But they’re actually our best ambassadors. They can give more meaningful and better insights into the student experience than all of our advertising dollars combined. We just have to engage them in the right way.’

4. The pandemic has increased international students’ attention to post-graduate outcomes, driving urgency around dedicated career support

Economic uncertainty has driven demand for post-completion work experience in international students’ study destination country. Most institutions sporadically market post-graduate outcomes to international students, but innovative institutions are building next-level career development service by embedding support into the student experience, even before enrolment.

‘For too long we’ve taken a “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to career support for our students-but with pressure from both government and students to prove we deliver value for money, we need to rethink that approach.’

Download the presentation slides Read the whitepaper on recruiting online international students

Demystifying alternative credentials and providers: Opportunities and threats in today’s HE marketplace

5. The alternative marketplace is intensely crowded, prompting anxiety amongst late entrants

51% of the non-degree credential market is controlled by non-traditional providers. For higher education institutions to be competitive, they must avoid competing on price and speed and instead focus on value, quality, and career outcomes.


of the non-degree credential market is controlled by non-traditional providers

‘Frankly, the speed at which other providers and increasingly even corporations themselves can create credentials scares me. Universities just aren’t designed to move that quickly. Someone on our staff may have a good idea, but historically it’s taken us years to stand it up.’

6. Learner demand for alternative credentials differs significantly from traditional degrees, requiring unique marketing strategies

Demand for alternative credentials is greatest outside North America and is concentrated in experienced learners. And while fast-growing, the alternative credential market is relatively small from a monetary perspective. To effectively serve this market, institutions must identify consumer segments that have been overlooked or priced out by traditional degrees.

‘We see our credentials initiative as a way into new global markets-not just as a source of revenue, but also to provide opportunities for developing countries and communities without contributing to the brain drain problem.’

7. Formidable barriers to profitability constrain opportunity (but not enthusiasm)

High learner acquisition costs and expensive infrastructure impede an accessible and sustainable business model. For most institutions, alternative credentials are best used as a top-of-funnel recruitment strategy for degree programs where the ROI for institutions and students are the highest.

‘Our governing board and government undoubtedly think micro- and short-form credentials are the future. What they don’t understand is that effective marketing and delivery does not come cheap-and all of that comes at a time when we’re also feeling pressure on the use of casualised labour.’

8. HEIs are best positioned to carve out a premium market niche

While business and technology remain ‘hot’ fields, they are also the most saturated, with high barriers to entry for new providers. Institutions looking to compete in these spaces will need to ensure their offerings are unique and sufficiently differentiated. Cross-discipline and high-intensity applied skills in emerging fields, like healthcare and education, are the best bet for most.

‘We’re never going to compete with a generic data science offering-but what we can do is bring together different disciplines and perspectives that are unique to a university environment and provide top-tier learning and career support. We’re betting that some learners will want that whole package.’

Download the presentation slides Assess the impact on your institutional strategy with our worksheet

How to engage campus stakeholders to combat escalating cybersecurity threats

9. When it comes to cyberattacks, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’

The pandemic has coincided with a rapid rise in cyberattacks across HE, leading to halted operations, leaked personal data, and multi-million-pound losses. In a survey of 500 institutions, 44% reported being hit by ransomware in 2020 alone. Given a university’s high volume of valuable and proprietary data, as well as its ‘digital sprawl’, it’s no surprise universities are frequent targets.


of surveyed institutions reported being hit by ransomware in 2020 alone

‘The fundamental purpose of a university is to share information, to be open and accessible. Unfortunately, those wonderful strengths lead us right down a path of high vulnerability to cyberattacks.’

10. Enterprise-wide cybersecurity must begin with senior leadership

Historically, cybersecurity has been seen as an IT issue. But as the digital footprint of institutions have expanded, so have institutions’ risk, with everything from business continuity and student success to research productivity and reputation on the line. Senior leaders must put cybersecurity on the strategic agenda, even if they don’t feel like they have the requisite expertise to do so.

‘We lack a systematic way of involving non-IT leaders in assessing, accepting, or mitigating risks for the institution. If we can’t get our senior leaders to take responsibility, how can we expect everyone else across the organisation to do so?’

11. Cybersecurity requires the engagement of every stakeholder

Everyone at a university, from the vice chancellor down to honorary lecturers and campus guests, is a potential cybersecurity threat vector. As such, each end-user bears some responsibility for keeping the institution safe. No silver bullet exists, but gamified and carrot-and-stick approaches can bolster the human side of a defense strategy.

‘Making security everyone’s job is the biggest hurdle. This isn’t a technology problem-it’s a people problem. It’s like Health and Safety from twenty years ago. We had to learn that it’s a collective responsibility and that ignoring it can lead to catastrophic consequences.’

12. Enhancing cybersecurity capabilities do not come cheap-but the consequence of doing nothing is worse

Yesterday’s cybersecurity prevention measures (e.g., traditional firewalls, anti-virus software, ad-hoc identity and access systems) aren’t up to the task for today’s threats. But the proactive and automated solutions that most campuses need come with hefty price tags, as do the staff trained to prevent and respond to attacks.

‘It’s so hard to prove that recurring investments in the right cybersecurity infrastructure is worth it-but we have to accept that’s now the cost of doing business as a modern organisation with the kind of data and risk exposure that we have.’

Download the presentation slides Download EAB’s cybersecurity diagnostic

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