Having a strong strategic direction imbedded into your organisation is vital if you want to succeed and grow your international education business.
Here you will find guidance on what a strategy is, and what it is not, and how to get started either developing or reviewing your own strategic direction.
What a strategy is - and what it’s not
At its simplest, a strategy is a method or plan to bring about a desired future state.
Your strategy should focus your energy on the key aspects that influence your customers. It should also seek to perform activities differently than rivals do. Trade-offs are essential to your strategy: they create the need for choice and purposefully limit what you offer.
A goal is not a strategy
“We want to be number one or two in the market” - you may have heard something like this before. That is not a strategy, it is a goal.
There is nothing wrong with having an aspiring goal, but strategy is how you endeavour to accomplish it.
Strategy involves making genuine choices. Being first or second in the market is not really a genuine choice, which requires tradeoffs, and giving up something that could have worked as well. It’s a bit like saying “My strategy to win the 400 meters at the Olympics is by running faster than anyone else”. It’s a good goal, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how you intend to achieve it.
Your route towards the goal is your strategy.
Don’t make your strategy your status quo
Many organisations, when writing up their strategy, look for some formula that fits in all the things that they’re doing anyway.
There is nothing wrong with that, if what you are doing happens to constitute a consistent set of coherent choices, i.e. a strategy.
But more often than not, it leads to some amorphous statement that is designed with the sole purpose of not giving anything up, no matter how disjointed the current set of activities.
A strategy changes behaviour
Some organisations have great strategies showing a coherent set of genuine choices about their value proposition and the precise set of customers that they are going to serve, but when staff are asked about what that strategy is, they have no idea.
A strategy is only a strategy if it alters the behaviour of the people in your organisation - what they do and how they do it.
If nobody knows or cares about it, it cannot influence their actions and decisions.
Initial success is hardly ever decisive
If you have a run of success with some great products or an innovative business model, it does not mean you will stay on top for ever.
Strategy is really about trying to work out in a sensible way how to get from one stage to the next. With each stage a new set of problems has to be negotiated before you move beyond it.
How your strategy works within your organisation
An effective internationalisation strategy requires organisation-wide commitment and an achievable work programme.
At the simplest level, your organisation’s commitment to internationalisation should be highlighted in its overall strategic direction.
Your international strategy will also outline what you will do to achieve your internationalisation goals.
And your work programme will outline how you will achieve your strategy
Your strategic direction
Effective international strategy stems from your organisation’s overall priorities. Your international strategy should be driven by your organisation’s mission statement and strategic plan (schools should refer to their School Charter).
There are many examples of how your organisation can reflect its commitment to internationalisation. Here are just a few:
Strategy from Rangitoto College
Globalisation: Rangitoto College will establish opportunities for students and staff to collaborate, share and compete with renowned schools and organisations throughout the world as a means of growing the cultural understanding of the school community and critiquing our performance internationally.
International Students: Rangitoto College will provide a world-class educational experience for a wide diversity of international students of high calibre.
The mission of The University of Auckland is to be: A research-led, international university, recognised for excellence in teaching, learning, research, creative work, and administration, for the significance of its contributions to the advancement of knowledge and its commitment to serve its local, national and international communities.
The University of Auckland aspires to: … Be a public university of global standing that serves New Zealand, is distinctive and reflects our place in the Asia / Pacific region.
SIEBA’s vision is to be a leading partner for New Zealand schools in advancing their international education business.
SIEBA’s mission is to Lead, Connect and Grow the business of international education and the people who work within it.
Does your strategic vision measure up?
Review your organisation’s strategic plan and see if it reflects your organisation’s strategic direction. Or use this opportunity to start a discussion on how your organisation’s strategy should reflect your commitment to internationalisation.
You should also consider establishing a governance function to oversee the development and implementation of your organisation’s strategy and commitment to internationalisation.
Use this checklist to get you started.
National and regional international education strategies
There are a number of national and regional strategies, along with peak body and sector groups that you should be strategically linked to.
Check out the project on international education industry strategies to get an overview of these, and then go through the thought points below and make the links with your own strategy.
New Zealand’s Leadership Statement for International Education
- What implications does the Leadership Statement have for the New Zealand international education industry, and for your organisation?
- What opportunities does the Leadership Statement signal?
- What areas for development does your organisation need to consider?
- How can you implement the Roadmaps’ choices and actions in your organisation?
- How can you use the themes of Markets, Products and Pathways, Resourcing, Capability and Leadership, and Partnerships to drive change in your organisation?
- What do you need to consider for the development of your organisation’s international education programme in the future?
- How can you contribute to your region’s efforts to enhance international education?
- How can you benefit from your region’s efforts?
Sector and peak body strategies
- Make contact with your peak body to access their thinking on international strategy and plans.
- Consider how you can contribute to, and benefit from, your sector’s plans.
How to develop your strategy
Here are some tips to help you develop your own strategy.
Development will likely require an iterative process, and you will need to include a range of participants at all levels of your organisation.
Bear in mind that effective strategy involves choices about what you will do, and what you won’t.
Start with a reverse brainstorm
Get your creative juices going by undertaking a reverse brainstorm. Brainstorm the following question with others in your organisation:
“If we wanted to reduce the number of international students at our organisation, what would we do?”
Aside from being fun, this process quickly identifies (in reverse) all the aspects you need to focus on to develop your international programme.
Gather your evidence
The numbers don’t lie. You need to ensure you’re making decisions based on as much data as possible rather than your assumptions and perceptions. Analysing your data can throw up interesting new insights and issues to address.
Collate and analyse your data to answer these questions:
- Where do your students come from?
- At what levels? For how long?
- What are your top five source markets?
- Which provinces/cities in those markets do most of your students come from?
- Which agents in those markets are the most productive for you?
- How has this picture changed over the past five years?
- What is your international student achievement?
- What are your international student retention rates?
- What are their satisfaction levels?
- Which aspects of their experience at your organisation would they like improved?
- What is your revenue to costs?
- What is your return on investment in each market?
- Which market offers the best return?
Also check out the projects on:
Identify priorities to focus on
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t do everything you would like to.
Identify no more than three priorities to focus on in your international strategy and work programme.
You could start by addressing your organisation’s key weakness or challenge (see the SWOT in the section above).
Whatever priorities you focus on, keep the drivers of international education growth in mind.
To help out, check out the project on: Six ways to take your programme to the next level
Develop a lean business plan
A lean business plan is a simple, efficient business plan that starts with a core idea or business goal/objectives that includes regular review and revisions along the way - a bit like a plan on a page.
In terms of getting the actions for your strategy going, it’s a good place to start.
Check out the project on: Lean business planning