Posted on 19 Jan '22

Personalisation and a Commitment to Caring: How Leeds Beckett Increased International Student Enrolment During a Pandemic

Leeds Beckett University won a gold HEIST 2021 award for the Best International Student Recruitment Campaign. We invited Christine Pham Keaney, International Marketing Manager, to share how they pivoted their plans in the face of COVID-19, leading to a successful recruitment drive.

Here at Leeds Beckett, we love a challenge. Our international recruitment target for 2020 was ambitious so we conducted a major study to refine our messaging for the upcoming year, developed our comms plan, and we were ready to aim higher than ever before.

Then COVID-19 hit.

And with it, the need to give international students the confidence and reassurance to make one of the biggest decisions in their lives in the most difficult of times.

Here is what we did:

#1 Research

Pre-pandemic, we conducted a mixed-method market research study with 1,000 prospective international applicants to UK universities. The study explored the decision-making process, identifying the range of factors that influence students’ decision to study overseas and select an institution.

Our results showed that while there were different priorities amongst different nationalities, pastoral support was universally important. We reviewed our findings alongside our website analytics, social media interactions and feedback from international agents to identify key areas to focus on.

#2 Developing a personalisation strategy

Country-personalised webpages were built to guide international visitors through the discovery phase and optimising mobile became paramount. High-value calls to action were prominent throughout – leading to an 18.4% increase in ‘Apply now’ conversions.

Additionally, our large number of international case studies meant we could serve country-specific content to our visitors – what followed was a 52% increase in unique website visitors from outside the UK.

We also created a personalised communications plan, so students saw country-specific calls to action every step of the way.

#3 A commitment to caring

From March 2020, our personalised campaign was taken to the next level. All applicants received a 1-2-1 phone call, followed by an email with a personalised video message from their country representative.

Country-specific virtual Q&As were organised to address applicants’ questions and we ensured that every student placed a face to a name for support contacts. On top of all that, we hosted 70 online pre-departure and welcome events (versus 39 events the previous year) which prepared students for their life at Leeds Beckett.

#4 Exercising our creative flair

We worked with an external agency on a cinematic brand video to build excitement, which was edited to suit different social media platforms and digital advertising placements. Our video drove a click through rate 232% above the sector benchmark.

This was complemented by our in-house creative team developing strong design across our conversion content and building a more cohesive international brand.

#5 Building a sense of our student community from afar

We increased the amount of student-generated content via our ‘Student Blog Squad’ – who filmed vlogs about everything from a day in the life of an American football player to budgeting tips for international students.

We also increased our number of international Unibuddy ambassadors, who worked at every online open day event throughout 2020.

We gathered messages and testimonials from students on social media with the hashtag #BeckettGlobal to showcase the incredible diversity and resilience of our international community. The hashtag gained an 18% increase in engagement compared to other content.


We exceeded all of our COVID-adjusted targets, increasing international enrolments by 36.6%. International applications increased by 68%, international website users increased by 52%, and 89.6% more messages from international prospects were submitted via Unibuddy versus 2019.

The development of a team culture where all colleagues embraced their role in delivering our aims and objectives was fundamental to the success of our international strategy. We were encouraged to take risks and try new things, and our audience’s needs drove every decision. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed us further to support our students and make things easy, relevant and useful.

If you would like help with extending the reach of your content and campaigns to our global FindAMasters and FindAPhD audience, please get in touch with your Account Manager, email [email protected] or call +44 (0)114 268 4940.

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