From 1 international student to 11,000

From one international student to 11,000

How Torrens University, Australia, transformed their international recruitment

Article by Michael Mander
Images by Bahudhara

6 years ago, Torrens University had one international student. Now, it has over 11,000. 

Established in 2012, Torrens University is Australia’s fastest growing – and the first new university in the country in 20 years. 

Mark Falvo, Vice President International, explained the university’s innovative approach to international recruitment that has led to such significant success in a short period of time.

Know your market 

“Historically, higher education in Australia has relied heavily on international students from certain source markets, such as China,” said Mark.

In fact, in a prescient moment from 2019, experts from the sector warned of a ‘catastrophe’ that would emerge from Australian universities’ overreliance on Chinese students to fill their seats. Some universities were seeing up to a fifth of their revenue dependent on students from the country. It was called a multibillion-dollar gamble

That catastrophe hit this year. As the pandemic struck, Australia was quick to close its borders – leaving many international students unable to get in

And yet, while many universities across Australia now see their share of the Chinese market declining, it remains Torrens University’s fastest growing market.

Torrens University - international students - global perspectives

“Chinese students coming to Australia, studying a year of English, then doing an undergraduate programme and wanting to stay afterwards – that’s been shifting for a long time,” said Mark, “we identified that trend shifting and so made a decision to move towards a focus on postgraduate offerings.

“Postgraduate students tend to be looking for a career change or advancement. They might have a family, or other commitments which mean they are not in a position to go and study overseas – but they do still want a reputable qualification from another country to show employers.” 

With this in mind, Torrens University launched a remote, fully online MBA. The remote MBA is taught in Mandarin, designed for students in China to gain a qualification from an Australian university without ever stepping foot in Australia. It has meant that

Torrens University has managed to maintain its share of the Chinese market throughout the pandemic – bucking the trend.

Diversify your intake

Torrens University has another trick up its sleeve when it comes to international recruitment. 

With signs that the market in China may be beginning to stagnate, universities across Australia turned their attention to new destinations to recruit from. And India – as the fastest growing economy, with a population of 1.8 billion and lofty ambitions for their own higher education sector – was an obvious choice.

Universities quickly began forming partnerships with Indian institutions. New programs and research initiatives were put together.

India was a key market for Torrens University, too – but to expand their horizons they also looked elsewhere.

“We have always taken a long-term investment approach, focusing not only on key growth regions but also smaller markets,” said Mark.

While many universities fight tough competition in crowded markets, Torrens University has become the largest destination university in Australia for Latin American students. 

With a population of less than 7 million and a land mass just 0.1% the size of Australia, Lebanon is certainly not the usual suspect as an international education market. But, with 300 international students coming from the country each year, Torrens University gave it attention, and now the university attracts two thirds of the country’s international students through its doors. 

Mark explained: “if you can get two thirds of a small market, it’s better than fighting over a tiny piece of a huge pie. So it formed part of our risk mitigation in terms of not putting all of our recruitment effort in one space.

“More than that, it’s also about diversifying our university. We have over 11,000 international students now – which is a little over half of our total student body – but they’re from 118 different countries and that that adds a huge amount, culturally, to our institution and to the student experience.”

Understand decision making

It’s hard to influence students’ decisions if you don’t know how they make them. Understanding the things that matter to them forms a crucial part of Torrens University’s strategy. 

“Typically, students pick the country, then they look at the course, then the city and finally the institution. Australia is a pretty easy sell and students already have a good idea of what that looks like.

“For most institutions in Adelaide, the next challenge would be selling the city. Some students might be drawn to Sydney or Melbourne. But we have the advantage of campuses across Australia. We can say ‘you can study in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, or online. We also have a design school in New Zealand’.”

And peer recruitment will grow in importance as students turn to those that have made the journey before them. “People look at reviews of restaurants before they eat there, and a dining experience can’t even be compared with the amount of investment that you put into a university qualification,” said Mark. “People want to know what other people think and if I were to embark on an educational experience, I couldn’t think of a better way to to get an understanding than from a current or past student for that matter.” 

But Torrens isn’t looking to abandon all in-person for digital. “As an institution, ultimately, you still need to be on the ground to cater to those students who are seeking the face-to-face learning experience. It’s important to be aware that students have different needs and want a variety of options, whether that’s face to face, online, or a hybrid of both. We currently offer all of these options and will continue to do so to ensure we are delivering learning experiences that suit all of our students.”

Take a risk

Torrens University is a new university, growing quickly and with an experienced team that’s willing to try new things. For Torrens University, risk-taking is itself a form of risk mitigation. 

When they offered the Chinese market a fully online course, when they recruited from lesser-considered territories, when they invested in campuses across the country. These actions seemed like big risks, out of step with the rest of the sector, but paid dividends as market trends moved in their direction. 

These actions may appear risky to some, but have paid dividends as market trends moved in their direction.

“Risk is not a negative,” said Mark, “if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to maximize your opportunities.”

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