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LATAM Recruiting Series: Insights on Brazil

LATAM Recruiting Series - Brazil

Back in March/April 2020, we talked about the big picture factors that would reduce student enrollment in 2020/2021: job/income loss, restrictive student visa and travel regulations, COVID-19 rates of infection, and limitations on the availability of internships and jobs. Now we need to add to those considerations: vaccination rates. 

Following our publication of enrollment marketing insights about the two largest senders of students to the US (Report Links Available Here: China and India), we find ourselves wanting to know more about LATAM countries and whether there are insights to share with our enrollment colleagues.  

According to SEVIS data, there are more than 23,000 Brazilians studying in the US today. Our friends at WENR predict Brazil will become one of the top five countries worldwide for outbound students seeking degree programs by 2035. A lot can happen between now and then. Nevertheless, we know Brazil will remain an important source of students to academic programs around the world.

Setting the Context

Being proactive in our enrollment marketing initiatives requires data which informs strategy. A few grounding points about overall international student mobility from the past year to put our discussion of Brazil’s opportunities in context:

  • IIE’s widely reported analysis showed a 43% drop in international student enrollment in the US for Fall of 2020. 
  • Not all institutions had the same experience. In general, those that typically do well with enrollment continued to do well.
  • With testing requirements dropped by many institutions, application rates are soaring, though enrollment numbers are struggling. Intention does not equal follow through. 

A Little Motivation

We can emerge from this turbulent and unstable environment with knowledge, insight, and better planning that incorporates recent experience and current data. 

Those who win embrace change! Those who embrace change are incorporating the latest tools to segment audiences and target those prospective students most likely to want what their institution offers.

With that, let’s take a look at Brazil’s opportunities. Read on...

Way back in 2019 - it feels like a century ago, right? - the number of Brazilian students studying in the US was steadily increasing, and the interest in not only receiving an education but also traveling in the US was high, placing the US competitively with Canada and the UK. 

Study Travel Magazine recently reported an overall decline of 47% in English language learners seeking programs from Australian universities in 2020. Similar to the figure cited above for overall international student enrollment declines experienced in the US during the same period. Interestingly, Brazil is the 4th leading country (after China, Colombia, and Japan) in sending ESL students to Australia. Important perspective on many levels, there.

Language program enrollment, while far smaller than the numbers of international students seeking undergraduate and graduate programs, typically act as a bellwether indicating international student trends overall. The Australian universities are predicting worse enrollment numbers for 2021 than the English language program declines they experienced in 2020.

An important point to keep in mind: your institution does not need to enroll ALL the students coming to your country. You just need to enroll YOUR students. A smaller pool means many institutions will throw in the towel and do nothing, wasting the opportunities that exist.

Our Intead Emerging Markets Report in 2019 showed that the top 3 criteria influencing student enrollment from Brazil were affordability, availability of student services, and reputation for intended degree (as opposed to the reputation of the institution overall).  With Brazil’s economy making progress toward recovery, and student motivation for tertiary opportunities in the US still strong, it becomes clear that your marketing strategy should align to meet these demands, while addressing student concerns regarding tuition and student services.

Still not convinced?  Let’s explore some data recently reported by ICEF:

  • 1.2% GDP growth returning Brazil to pre-pandemic numbers. 
  • 70% of Brazilians are willing to fully vaccinate in order to travel internationally.
  • 41% surge in CommonApp applications for the 2020/21 school year - Brazil being the highest of all nationalities.

Another important bright spot: the signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement in 2019 opened more potential for new commercial opportunities between Americans and Brazilians in advanced technologies related to aerospace. The visit to the US by the Brazilian president in 2020 led to an agreement between NASA and the Brazilian Space Agency. This relationship should serve our STEM institutions well as a joint research satellite is set to launch in the future. Are there connections here that can fit into your STEM-related marketing promotions?

COVID, Travel, and Student Visas

To date, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has reported over 100 million administered doses of the COVID vaccine with the goal to vaccinate the target population of 160 million by the end of 2021. With an estimated population in 2020 of 212 million, that’s approximately 47% of the population already vaccinated.  Brazil is leading the world in the average daily number of new infections, so vaccination priority is crucial. 

Students from Brazil already holding visas are permitted entry into the US for classes beginning prior to August 2021. Visa interviews are happening though the pace may not match past years just yet. The US embassy notes their efforts to prioritize student visa services. In addition, the US Mission to Brazil has extended the payment validity for those who have paid their processing fees to September 2022.  

The frustration of the uncertainty for new and current Brazilian students is palpable. There is always a positive side, however, and that lies in the new policy direction under President Biden, which promises to, dependent upon the pandemic progression, expand post-graduate opportunities for international students. 

In June, the US Economy and Policy Institute reported the addition of 850K new jobs in May by the US labor market. Of course, there is volatility in the data but the outlook for a recovering economy and specialized job opportunities is promising.

The Bottom Line

We predict international student demand from Brazil will continue to be strong as travel/visa challenges lift and health concerns dissipate in the next year. There are opportunities to promote STEM undergraduate and graduate programs with clear links to your institution’s job placement rates in key career areas. This is where your successful alumni will play an important role in your recruitment plans and communications. 

This is no time to sit back and wait. The rest of the world is getting their plans and budgets aligned for growth. It bears repeating: Those who win embrace change!

Let’s talk about how much to invest and where.


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