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Recruiting Intelligence

Yes, You Should Consider Guyana, but here’s the thing…



An influx of petroleum dollars tends to turn heads. Just ask Guyana.

This small South American country used to be among the Western Hemisphere’s poorest. But that’s all changing since Exxon Mobil discovered oil just offshore in 2015. And not just some oil, but more than 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas. The country is now on track to be a top 20 oil producer within the next 3 years (by 2027). In 2022, it was reclassified as a high-income country by the World Bank.

As you might imagine, Guyana’s neighbors have taken notice. Venezuela, for one, has ratcheted up rhetoric on the long-running territorial dispute claiming the land as theirs. The US, too, has shown a heightened interest in the small country. Case in point, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled there just last summer to meet with Guyana’s president and key members of the cabinet.

All interesting. But why write about it here? Because this is the kind of ripening market that should catch your attention if your role is about expanding your international student recruitment to new markets.

The Intead team is gearing up for some amazing presentations and we hope you can join us. 

  • AIRC Spring Symposium and ICEF North America in Niagara, Canada, April 30 - May 3, 2024
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  • GMAC 2024 Annual Conference in New Orleans, June 19-21, 2024

Let us know if you’ll share a cup of coffee and a conversation about all things global and digital (info@intead.com) 

Obviously, Guyana’s potential is no replacement for that of booming Indian or even the huge but slowing Chinese student markets. After all, its population is a small 800,000 (note: 27% or approximately 216,000 are in your key age group 10 – 24). But, for the proactive, trend watching recruiter looking to make an early entrance and develop relationships in an emerging region, Guyana could make a lot of sense. The cherry on top: Guyana is an English-speaking country – the only one in South America. 

To put it more plainly: 

  • There is no language barrier for Guyanese students heading to the US, UK, Canada, or Australia.
  • Guyana’s middle class is growing, rapidly.
  • There are some concerns about safety in the country, even beyond the threat of opportunist neighbors, making relative perceived safety in the US less of an issue than say to a student/family from a place like Japan.

Got you thinking? Let’s take a closer look at Guyanese culture, education, and economy and how these factors might or might not connect to your international student recruitment strategy. And a big thank you to Dr. Mellissa Ifill of the University of Guyana for taking time to weigh in on this post! Read on… 

If you are still a bit skeptical of this emerging market, sure, we understand. See this quick oil industry read from just about a month ago. These reports have been a consistent drumbeat over the past few years.

To be sure, top sending countries like India, China, and Canada are much surer bets for the general US institution recruitment strategy. Guyana is not those. It’s a riskier region for your recruitment dollar, but with the right institution and right strategy, viewing Guyana as an emerging market to test and develop could be a winning long-term play. Consider this, are your competitor institutions already recruiting there? Likely not. (Or not yet).

As far as Guyenese student interest in studying abroad, Dr. Mellissa Ifill, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement at the University of Guyana, confirms that it's there. “There is definite interest in studying abroad, especially among students at the post-graduate level or those seeking interdisciplinary programs in the hard sciences.”

Interesting. Let’s take a closer look at this potential market.

Guyana’s economy is booming.

We’ve already mentioned why: oil. But here’s a little more background. Its GDP per capita was historically among the lowest in South America – this is no longer the case as this figure soared approximately 181% from US$6,477 in 2019 to over US$18,199 in 2022. And, if The Economist, has it right, it seems the country is being relatively prudent in its windfall. It’s working with established companies to help oversee oil exploration and development, which is broadly seen as a wise move. It has also set up a sovereign-wealth fund to shield its economy from the whims of the commodity cycle and as a means of saving money when the oil runs dry. Even still, the new boom economy is heavily dependent on the O&G sector.

Your Takeaway: The middle class and expat community are expanding and with it comes family income that can be earmarked for university as young Guyanese eye knowledge-based careers at home. Of course, the percentage of families able to afford an international education will remain small (the definition of an emerging market), so you’ll need to weigh cost against opportunity. Still, opportunity is there for those who care to find it.

Guyanese culture is more Caribbean than South American. 

Guyana is historically and culturally connected to the Caribbean because like many of the Caribbean islands (and unlike any other South American country), Guyana was once a British colony – hence its English language. Notably Guyana is a founding member of the regionally important CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), an organization that aims to promote economic integration, foreign policy coordination, human and social development, and security for its members.

Your Takeaway: Approaching prospective Guyanese students is so much easier since there’s no language barrier. And understanding that their culture is way more Caribbean than South American should help shape the way you market to these families. If you have a strategy for other Caribbean countries, it can be adapted for Guyana without a heavy lift.

It's not all about oil. The climate matters a whole lot, too. As do your academic programs that help support it. 

Like a growing number of countries, climate change is putting Guyana at high risk of enduring heavy rainfall, flooding, sea-level rise, and storm surges. The country, which has one of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, has outlined substantial measures to support green and resilient growth. This includes a focus on forest protection and investments in renewable energy sources like hydropower and solar energy. The rising generation of Guyanese students have environment on their minds.

Your Takeaway: Focus on your programs that can help prospective students envision ways they can return and be part of Guyana’s climate solution. Yes, this means STEM. But it also means Business programs and environmental sciences. Help them see how your university can help them make a difference at home.

Its education system is a work in progress. 

Per the World Bank, Guyana’s education system is making progress. Yet, the 12.2 years of schooling expected of the average Guyanese student is equivalent to less than 7 years of learning as measured by the Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling (LAYS) yardstick. So not all high school graduates are university ready by US/UK academic standards/expectations.

The University of Guyana ranks #192 among Latin American and Caribbean rankings per QS World University Rankings. There are a handful of other universities in the country as well, though not ranked. So, students have limited options for their post-secondary education.

Your Takeaway: Guyanese students serious about their education will likely be interested in what you have to offer as there are only a few high-quality universities in-country. Awareness is your first step. Figure out which channels will be most effective for you to reach your target audience. (Not sure where to start? We’ve got you – info@intead.com).

There are some safety concerns, too. 

The US State Department puts Guyana at a level 3 risk due to crime, including violent crimes. Local police, they say, often lack the resources to respond effectively to serious incidents and quality of medical care is low and inconsistent. Plus, regional tensions are high as in December 2023 when Venezuela voted to approve a takeover of a large part of Guyana. This dispute dates back to 1899 when Guyana was still a British colony; however, the oil boom is fueling Venezuela’s appetite for the land. The vote is widely viewed as symbolic, yet the regional threat remains, spurring the army of neighboring Brazil to ramp up its own border operations.

Your Takeaway: US safety is increasingly cited as a concern among some prospective international students. And there is reason for that. However, Guyanese families may view the US as being a safer country than their own (or at least be more comfortable with the US as a destination) during this time of newfound wealth and political flux.

Chief hurdles for Guyanese students: affordability, differing structure of edu systems. 

Recruiting Guyanese students is not without its hurdles. Chief among them: affordability. The fact is most families cannot afford an international education. Though some can.

The second hurdle is the US and Guyanese education systems are configured differently, making it difficult for prospective students to navigate the admissions process. For instance, in Guyana, a Caribbean Regional school leaving exam is the metric used to enter university, whereas the US higher ed system requires transcripts, SAT / ACT scores, letters of recommendations, and more, making the process daunting to the uninitiated.

“Students must undertake enormous research. They have to be willing to put in the time if they want to study in the US,” said Dr. Ifill.

This is where a strong agent relationship would be really valuable. From what we can see, the student recruitment agent scene in Guyana appears underdeveloped at this time. The Intead team will be keeping our eye on that. As the agent network develops, the best source for students seeking counsel outside of specific institutions is found through the EducationUSA office in Georgetown, Guyana. EducationUSA is a part of the US Embassy and can be a really helpful resource for families thinking about studying in the US.

Your Takeaway: If you’re serious about recruiting students from Guyana, help high school administrators and prospective families know not just about your institution, but what is required to access a US education in general. Get this information into the hands of families early in the student journey (think grade 9) so they can adjust their preparatory process. And connect with EducationUSA to make sure they have good information on your institution including your contact details to pass along to prospective students.

Is Guyana your new next target market? 

Is your institution a leader, fast follower, slow follower, or not a follower at all? You could absolutely wait to see how others fare. Yet, for a few of you with a broader, deeper international reach, the right academic programs (oil & gas and environmental sciences), strong cultural connections, and internal support for innovation, there may be an opportunity here.

We’re here to help you. Be in touch. 

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