In August, Australian higher education had 423,349 international students, 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 go home?

Another group largely forgotten is domestic Australian students who move overseas to build careers.

Then there are transnational alumni who live and work in two or more countries on a regular basis. Think domestic and international alumni working for a multinational and travelling regularly overseas (and that can mean back to Australia); or, the international alumni in Australia, who make up growing diaspora communities in capital cities and regional hubs.

Graduates in all these groups are a long way, both geographically and emotionally, from the universities they attended.

Relationships between student and alma mater is important and should continue well beyond graduation. In this five part series Gretchen Dobson and Dirk Mulder discuss how universities can stay in contact.

Chapter 3: Networking, Brand and Influence

In chapter one and two  we discussed the voices and aspirations of alumni and how international alumni can advance the business of the institution offshore.

Chapter two also explored the types of professional relationships with international alumni, which we build on now by analysing the role of alumni in university brands and how they can extend their influence – and ultimately, yours – locally and globally.

So, we start chapter three with brand and branding. Establishing a brand offshore is not an easy task. Some of our universities do this better than others. In most cases, brand design and responsibility sit within the “domestic” portfolio, often leading to brand principles being very focused on the institution’s surrounding postcodes, rather than what works in Mumbai or Shanghai.

The question to ask is; “are you an Australian university seeking to engage internationally, or are you a global university headquartered in Australia? “ The difference matters.

Thinking of global universities with an Australian HQ, Monash and Curtin spring to mind. They teach in multiple international destinations and decisions made at home have impacts outside Australia.

This applies to alumni engagement. Monash Malaysia has 7000 students on a campus larger than Bond University’s.

When we identify the physical, character and personality traits of an educational brand in market a “global university headquartered in Australia” will have a much different underpinning proposition to an Australian university looking to expand offshore.

Of course, brand incorporates people, not just pretty pictures of a city skyline and a logo. Every institution has a personality, and this is largely transferred via staff and students who are walking brand ambassadors. Having vast numbers of alumni in an offshore location is a brand asset in itself, albeit an under-utilised one.

And an alumni association brand should be aligned to an institutional brand where core values such as diversity, inclusiveness, learning partnerships and global citizenship are prominent. International alumni networks and chapters are an extension of the institutional and alumni brand. By “thinking globally, acting locally,” regional alumni groups communicate these core values through programmes designed to fit the local context and engage and support alumni, families, students and prospective students.

Having an organised alumni group in market allows you to feed messaging, and activate even at the smallest levels. Stimulating conversations around events on and off campus is a positive thing! These conversations carry weight in-market, no matter if friends are talking in the school pick-up line or in the board room.

Your international alumni chapters can nominate recent graduates, wherever based, as young alumni ambassadors, to focus on three key things: connecting with alumni from their home country; mobilising more awareness and support for your institution’s global agenda via social media; and celebrating the achievements of their peers.

Taking this engagement with your international alumni to the next level solidifies the relationship and opens doors to rewarding conversations. These conversations can be on topics that institutions may not even think are relevant today. Once these relationships are established via some initial work the opportunity moves to another stage: influencing. As alumni further their own careers within their locality their ability to influence increases, too.

It is at this level that these folks become extremely influential for an institution and indeed, the nation.

Austrade’s Global Alumni Engagement strategy (2016-2020) frames the benefits of ‘soft power’ into four categories:

* strengthening diplomatic access and influence

* growing trade, investment and business linkages

* promoting capabilities and credentials in education, science, research and innovation

* showcasing Australia as a contemporary, innovative, open society

When you look at the alumni profiled in this document, they are either key current or future influencers. People such as vice-presidents of countries, emerging talent in specific industries, or current boardroom success stories. They open opportunities abroad.

To be clear, when we talk of influence, we are not talking of cash payments or shady deals but rather about how to never lose a connection with someone who may hold Australia, and indeed an institution, in their hearts. Their learning experience is a contributing factor in their success. Invite them to tell their story!


International alumni are an asset and, once engaged, they can assist in a variety of ways. Building a relationship and developing it is key to ensuring your brand offshore is supported. Start with some very practical engagement and, as time goes by, watch how the relationships develop. Your alumni can be in positions of great influence – a win-win for your institution and Australia.

This paper is part of a five-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

Part 2: Repeat Business

Part 3: Network, Brand and Influencing

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

Part 5: Simple steps to enhance a global alumni strategy

In Part Four we will look to engagement of international alumni and families and explore the area of donor relations. The closer the relationships are between an institution and its global alumni, the easier it will be to engage in dialogue about the future, sustainability and philanthropy.

About the Authors:

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

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, organisations and governments to identify, track and manage relationships with their global stakeholders. Contact her @ [email protected]




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