Every day, a new adventure – for us and for our international students. And we know that these heart-opening and often mind-blowing experiences are more than academic, are more than adventure: they are diplomatic, they are building inter-cultural competencies. We know that every day, we are contributing to a more just, a more open, a more equal, a more connected, a more diverse, a more understanding and yes, a more peaceful world.

So thank you to everyone reading this, for your contribution to internationalization, and for making a really important dent in this universe.

The current Intl Ed climate in the USA:

This is the time for us all to make our voices heard. You’ve probably all read the article in NAFSA’s International Educator titled “Weathering the Storm” which stated that “among institutions in the United States with intensive English programs (IEPs), virtually none have been left untouched by declining enrollments. A confluence of events—including changes to international scholarship programs, a strong U.S. dollar, a slump in Mideast oil prices, increased competition from IEPs in other countries, the current political climate in the United States, and the increased availability of English language training programs in students’ home countries and online—is driving much of the decline.

Here are the facts, according to the Summer 2018 International Educator article:

  • More than 108,000 students were enrolled in IEPs in 2016, with more than 21,000 coming from China. This figure represented a 16 percent decline in the number of Chinese students compared with 2015.
  • The number of Saudi Arabian students plummeted by 45 percent in 2016. Saudi students were hit by stricter restrictions placed on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program offered by their home country.
  • The number of Brazilian students participating in IEPs in the United States slumped 56 percent to about 4,700 students in 2016 as the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program scholarships wound down.

We all know this already, don’t we?! We see and live and breathe the impacts of these trends on our organizations first hand, and our lives are affected or about to be affected by restructuring and budget issues.  It is normal to feel shocked, resentful, anxious, and stressed. The truth is these times are frustrating for all of us – leaders and staff members alike. It’s frustrating partly because we are bombarded with reports on dwindling international student numbers, articles with intimate details on the dwindling numbers, the school closures, the visa denials data, etc. But the complex topic of what to do about all this is sorely lacking.

2 years into this climate, we know it is not sufficient to learn the facts and identify the challenges. We must go one step further: we must embrace new ideas, and take charge of change. And by “we”, I’m not only talking about us practitioners but also us news reporters! Let us all stop merely observing the sinking ship and reporting on it. Let’s move to action!

Mindset before Footprint:

We’ve all heard it before: let’s be nimble, let’s embrace new programming, let’s identify new markets, and let’s change out footprint. Many of us are already rethinking and reshaping our offerings:  rolling out more short-term and customized programs, launching pathway programs, and developing courses that cater to the needs of our local communities.  Yes – we are changing our footprint. But before changing our footprint, it is crucial to assess our current strengths and our current USPs, and the values we built our programs on. So many of our motivators sit within our belief systems and our mindset and we cannot adopt a new strategy if we don’t first understand our current mindset.  

EnglishUSA’s immediate past President, Jack Sullivan (UPenn), drew my attention to an article that appeared in a Harvard Business Review article dated June 2018, in which Tony Schwartz argued that “Leaders Focus too much on Changing Policies and not enough on changing Minds”. In the article, the author argued that we often pay far more attention to strategy and execution than we do to what our people are feeling and thinking when they’re asked to embrace a transformation. Let’s remember that resistance, especially when it unconscious, can derail even the best strategy.

Business transformations are typically built around new structural elements, including policies, processes, facilities, and technology. Some companies also focus on behaviors — defining new practices, training new skills, or asking employees for new deliverables.

We can’t forget that transforming a business also depends on transforming individuals.

Several factors typically hold mindset in place: the first is that much of it gets deeply rooted early in our lives or early in our careers. Over time we tend to develop confirmation bias, unconsciously seeking to reinforce what we already believe, and downplaying or dismissing the rest. All of this rolls up into our mindset, which reflects how we see our professional world and what we believe about how to run a quality institution.

Take a minute to think of an assumption that we may hold dear in our world of International Education: maybe that is that 15 students is the ideal classroom number, or that residential junior programs are a much cleaner solution than a homestay-based junior program. Ultimately, “change” requires the courage to challenge one’s current comfort zone. To challenge our own assumptions.

Lean Methodology

A methodology for developing and adopting great strategies:

Great strategy remains foundational to transformation but successful execution also requires continuously addressing the invisible reasons that we (and our people) so often resist change.

While the Lean methodology was born out of manufacturing, it is not a new concept to us, in our budgetary constrained and dynamic environments. When an institution as a whole embraces continuous improvement, the need for change and the identification of significant improvements and the adoption of new objectives become second nature.  

Ansoff Matrix

To identify and develop these significant growth opportunities – those that will move the needle, we can apply a variety of tools. One such tool is the Ansoff Matrix with its four quadrants of growth. Using this model, we consider current stakeholders and non-stakeholders—those who are currently interfacing with your institutions and those who aren’t—against current program offerings and new program offerings, current markets and new markets, current resources (financial, space and people) and new resources.

The four strategies of the Ansoff Matrix are:

  1. Market Penetration: This low risk approach focuses on increasing sales of existing services (current footprint of programs, space use, and skill set) to an existing market. For example, you may have a strong Engineering program that sells well to Korean students. Can you deepen and broaden your reach with that program in Korea?  The recommendation here is to start where you are and to use what you have.
  2. Product Development: This approach focuses on introducing new products to an existing market. You’ve taken years to develop relationships with university partners, key agents or government officials in Brazil for example, so what new educational support do they need? Perhaps short-term programs? 
  3. Market Development: This strategy focuses on entering a new market using existing products.
  4. Diversification: Of each quadrant, this approach is not only the highest risk approach but also the one that demands the greatest mindset flexibility as it focuses on entering a new market with the introduction of new offerings. For example, you may have under-utilized classroom space or under-employed faculty in the evenings, on the weekends, or during the summer semester. You might consider expanding into a new line of program offerings that will touch a new market: Short-term Business Summer Program for Japanese groups, or Short-term Junior programs for Brazilian groups, or expansion of your Engineering B.Sc.  into the graduate degree realm for Indian students.

Start where you are and Use what you have

All in all, these turbulent times have taught me that I need to start where I am. And so… here I am, in the market development phase of my personal career, launching The Parliament Group with my business partner, Rick.

In our work, we help organizations start where they are, identify what and how they think, what they’re doing and WHY they’re doing it. The strength of each organization is often found in its core essence. Once this is identified, we help organizations identify new opportunities, change mindsets and develop new strategies.  Practical, data-driven and results-oriented strategies.

Together, as an industry, we need to start right here, where we are – and not where we already wish we were. Organizations must re-think their cherished assumptions, questions their fears, critically assess their deeply-rooted understanding of the industry and of the world that sustains the industry. From here, we will help you focus on the value that each of you can add given our current context.  We will help you take charge of change and respond to current challenges with creativity, with action and also with compassion.

If we start where we are, we have a better chance of ultimately getting were we want to be.

Contact us.

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