As of August 2019, the higher ed sector in Australia had 423 000 international students enrolled, which is great for universities and broader higher ed providers. These students contribute diversity in and outside of classrooms on campuses, in our communities and make valuable financial contributions to the institution they attend. But what happens when they graduate and return home?

Another largely forgotten group is Australian students who leave home to make it big overseas.

A third group is transnational alumni who live work in two or more countries on a regular basis. Think domestic and international alumni working for a multinational and travel regularly overseas (and that can mean back to Australia); or, the international alumni who have called Australia home for many years and who make up growing diaspora communities in capital cities and regional hubs.

All of these groups are a long way, both geographically and emotionally, from the university they attended.

The relationship between student and Alma Mater is important and should run well beyond graduation. In this five-part series Gretchen Dobson and Dirk Mulder explore the key elements to enhance relationships with international alumni.

In this, the last of our five-part series exploring international alumni, we provide planning-insights for engagement strategies.

Parts one through four examine why international alumni are a key element in an institution’s fabric and why they will become more and more important in the future.

To re-cap: Part One looked at the voice of international alumni and how their views should be incorporated into an institution’s mindset and internationalisation strategy. It also provided some statistical analysis conducted by Cturtle on alumni in Asia who have studied at alternate destinations globally.

Part Two Looked at international alumni’s role in the business of international education and how they can bring authenticity to recruitment activities.

Part Three examined networking and how international alumni, especially those with whom have nurtured their relationship over time, can persuade and influence in countries abroad. Most recently, in Part Four we looked at the philanthropic role of international alumni and their ability to contribute to the institution via campaigns and causes.


And now our five tips for Going (or Staying) Global with Alumni:

Buy-in from senior leadership is a must

The more support there is for an alumni strategy, the more successful it will be. This is a fact. The higher the support in the institution the more likely it will be a success. Having the vice chancellor or president committed, both institutionally and personally, to cultivating relationships with international alumni will bring benefit. And, don’t forget cultivating families whose influence locally speaks volumes.

We strongly believe for any practitioner in the Alumni field that spending time briefing, persuading and updating the vice chancellor’s office on activities is a must. Activating the vice chancellor and senior staff to engage with international alumni is paramount.

Being organised matters

As the other parts of this series demonstrate, international alumni engagement is not just an activity carried out by alumni / advancement offices. It is a pivotal engagement piece that should permeate throughout the institution. From the international office, through faculties and schools, through the research office; having a “whole of institution” plan and working in partnership with other parts of the institution will allow opportunities that present themselves to be taken advantage of, and swiftly.

Keep track of your graduates

Invest in data systems. They are the backbone of keeping track of your alumni no matter where they are now. Logging information about international graduates beyond just their local address and their email allows for greater engagement and lays a foundation to starting a new conversation. Send an E-card for their birthday? Touch base on graduation anniversaries. Send a Lunar New Year e-card to all alumni in countries where it is celebrated.

Pairing these steps with a customer relationship management platform combines the richness of engagement details via new data: email-opens and click-throughs can create heat maps for greater engagement, generating invitations to participate in local events such as recruitment and professional development activities.

Before becoming alumni, they are students. Start here!

If you leave your first touch with international alumni until graduation, it’s too late. Start developing a culture of communication with students while they are at your institution. Know which international student organisations exist on your campus and invite their officers to an international student focus group. Serve some pizza and ask questions to discover how they found your institution, how they decided to attend, their experience (both academic and co-curricular) and why they are involved in their organisation. Discover the incentives that will keep them active as alumni. Be the conduit between current students and alumni back in their home markets and discuss ways to tighten the relationships between these key stakeholders.

Need extra help in the office? Hire an international student during term to assist with all global alumni relations work!

Do what you can, now!

Not all institutions have a ten-plus team to kick-start broad engagement and campaigns. Work with what you have got and plan accordingly. Prioritise next steps by analysing the data;

* recruitment: where are you growing? What are the new markets? Where must you convert applicants to enrolled students?

* academic programmes: what ones most interest which international students? Which offshore campuses are growing and why? Which programmes are becoming more popular with Pathways or other English-language programmes?

* advancement opportunities: where are your organised alumni chapters? Can you work with them to fundraise? Does Australia have a strong relationship with this country?

Analysing the data on recruitment, academic strengths and existing relationships should deliver an initial score card for the coming year.


A successful and sustainable international alumni program ever-more important to institutions, with the soft and hard benefits becoming measurable KPIs in an overall internationalisation strategy.

However, the highest office in an institution must be ready to engage and invest to develop consistent interactions, and ultimately build lifelong relationships with global alumni.

While students may study a short-course or a full three-year or graduate program, they are all your alumni and part of your institution’s DNA – your authentic voice.  The opportunity is now to re-engage or build from scratch these valuable relationships.

This paper is part of a 5-part series aimed at analysing some of the key rationales for servicing International Alumni better and what underpins these. The series contains the following:


Part 1: Voice and aspiration is here .

Part 2: Repeat Business is here .

Part 3: Network, Brand and Influencing  here  .

Part 4: The Give and the Get (with Donors) is here  .

Part 5: Simple steps to enhance a global alumni strategy

We certainly hope you have enjoyed reading this five-part series. Thank you.

About the Authors:

Dirk Mulder is an international education business developer, strategist and market analyst with over 15 years’ experience in International Education including holding Director positions in international operations at Murdoch University, Curtin University and the University of South Australia. Contact him @

Gretchen Dobson is a global engagement strategist, author and academic with over 27 years’ experience across five continents. Gretchen advises leaders on strategies and solutions that enable institutions, organizations and governments to identify, track and manage relationships with their global stakeholders. Contact her @


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education