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Recruiting Intelligence

International Students and Sea Turtles: A Global Index

We hope that you had a wonderful summer that you are coming back to the office and your activities relaxed and re-energized. We look forward to our collaboration and your comments and feedback in the new school year.

Here at Intead we have worked on a range of exciting research projects during the summer. It's amazing how industrious your international students are during the summer when they intern for us!

With their help we have created new publications we will be sharing with you during the year. And we have created a couple of new services for our clients and we tested and experimented with all type of digital media functionalities. That’s what we call our summer playground.

In the spirit of our summer vacation, we are sticking with an ocean theme. In Chinese culture, a “sea turtle” is a graduate of an overseas university who has reaped the benefits of a top-rate global education and immersion in another culture. We learned that the name sounds similar the phrase “return from overseas.”

Looking into this further, we found The Economist presented, in collaboration with the Bank of Communications in China, an interesting report on the Sea Turtle Index, as a benchmark of potential returns on investment in international education (no registration required for the report). And so, with international student recruiting on our minds and our penchant for finding the strongest marketing differentiators for our clients, we dove right in.

The index ranks 80 cities around the world by the overall return on an undergraduate experience that an educational location will offer. The index considers various factors, including:

  • Educational returns
  • Financial returns
  • Real estate returns
  • Work experience and social experiences.

Chart 1

Source: The Sea Turtle Index

The index provides educators, academic marketers and public policy makers in the major metropolitan areas around the world a useful global perspective on the relative attractiveness and competitiveness of their location. Chart 1 (above) shows the top 10 most attractive locations based on this combination of different factors weighted in the index. Boston is the highest ranked U.S. city (rank #7 followed by New York #10). We realize that the majority of institutions in the U.S., and as matter of fact around the world, need to compete without such location advantages. The report is still a fascinating glimpse of the increasing global competition in a growing market of mobile students.

According to the authors, the index reveals a shifting international landscape with some of Asia’s more affluent cities scoring highly. Several Asian cities rank in the top 30 overall, including Beijing, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei. Canadian universities and locations are performing extremely well, Montreal taking the top spot based on the combination of lower tuition costs which increases the return of investment on education. Montreal was also credited with strong opportunities to acquire work experience post studies and an open social experience.

The financial and real estate return aspects, which accounted for 25% of the index, admittedly puzzled us a bit at the beginning. However, the inclusion of investments points out the connection of economic development, investment flows and higher education, not frequently quantified in higher education circles. A subset of parents of international students are combining education and other financial investments in the locations where they entrust their children. This advantage seems hardly ever quantified. Even the NAFSA economic impact report, which quantifies the benefits of international students for the U.S. economy at more than $21 billion per year, are not able to capture the investments in apartments and other assets by these savvy parents.

The cost of education and limited work opportunities are weakening the position of U.S. cities and U.S. institutions compared to most other competitor locations. Chart 2 (below) shows the subindex for educational returns, where Philadelphia is taking the highest U.S. spot. Otherwise, U.S. cities and institutions are faring very well. The message of the report is that Europe is attractive and Asia is increasingly appealing. In particular where joint-ventures with prestigious, long-established Western universities give students the opportunity of getting high quality education at a lower cost and with immediate access to work experience. Canada and Australia rank highly and their generous visa rules really help.

The report points out that Western cities top the list in terms of cultural vibrancy. According to the authors, unsurprisingly, the cities that have long been known as the world’s most culturally vibrant remain near the top of the social experience sub-index. It would be surprising if cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris did not score highly in this respect. However, a city’s appeal can often have a lot to do with how well it has promoted its brand internationally. In this respect, Singapore (in fourth place in the social experience sub-index) has done well. The lesson is that even the most cosmopolitan cities in the world have to promote and maintain the brand appeal to support their position in a competitive world.

Bottom Line: From our perspective, the report shows an interesting glimpse of the dynamic environment of global higher education marketing. These rankings show the importance of various factors, including the caché of your local surroundings and other critical elements like government policies for visa and work permissions which are largely beyond the influence/control of individual universities. Institutions have to utilize the available means and compete aggressively. In the U.S., we notice that many institutions do not yet leverage even existing work permission rules to compete. It's a missed opportunity in the global competition.

And by the way, if you have a stellar international student looking for an internship opportunity, have them contact us.

Next week, we'll highlight a report from the United Kingdom about increasing the competitiveness of their education sector.

Chart 2


Topics: Insights