Supporting Current Students During Time of Crisis

Supporting Current Students During Time of Crisis

The start of 2020 has seen two major disasters, both of which have implications for Australia and New Zealand’s tertiary education sector. Bushfires across the east coast of Australia have destroyed property and taken lives, damaged air quality and led to the temporary closures of some campuses, while the outbreak of 2019-nCoV (“Coronavirus”) appears likely to impact the arrival of 100,000 Chinese international students into Australia, and 6,500 into New Zealand, for the upcoming academic year.

This confluence of events has been described as the ‘perfect storm’ by International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) CEO and chair of a new Global Reputation Taskforce, Phil Honeywood in a recent webinar co-hosted by IEAA and Austrade.

Source: A sector-wide response:Australia’s bushfires,Novel Coronavirus and the Global Reputation Taskforce. IEAA and Austrade

In times of crisis, we naturally tend to focus on the most immediate and pressing issues – for most universities, this means maintaining the flow of incoming students for the upcoming start of the academic year. However, we urge institutions to not neglect their responsibilities to existing student populations.

Current students may be feeling isolated, disengaged, or under additional pressure. They may have friends and family affected by the virus or the travel bans. To help institutions address this, we have outlined our best practice tips for communicating and engaging with your student cohort in times of crisis, informed by our specialist Student Engagement and Retention team.

1. Broadcast and promote updates and timely messaging that proactively address common concerns

Our first tip is to create an informed program of regular and timely communications, which provides up-to-date information and addresses any concerns which are being commonly raised.

In the case of the Coronavirus outbreak, useful information would include updates to international travel restrictions, advice on changes to attendance or enrolment requirements and links to official sources of information about the virus and how to stay safe.

It’s essential for crisis communications to use supportive language and have a clear call to action (CTA), encouraging students to connect directly with available support services, like hotlines and pop-up drop-in centres.

Providing regular updates with relevant and up-to-date information, along with instructions on how to access relevant support services, will help to equip your students with the tools and information they need to successfully navigate periods of difficulty.

Common issues disclosed during 1-1 conversations with current students:

  • Coursework difficulties
  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Transitioning to university life
  • Wanting to change courses or defer studies


2. Maintain an open line of communication throughout their journey through marketing automation and clear CTAs

Marketing automation programs are a great way to leverage email and SMS to make sure students are aware of support services that are available to them and how to access them, proactively promoting relevant services, rather than hoping students will seek them out in times of need. This is particularly important during the intake period, considering that the students in most need of these services may be least likely to seek them out.

Personalised nurture programs can quickly broadcast dynamic messages to cohorts of students and are particularly effective when coupled with a strong CTA, inviting students to attend a service, or to request a follow-up for more information.

To make these programs effective and relevant, be sure to continuously update them in response to the latest news and events wherever they might have an impact on the services being promoted, rather than simply ‘set and forget’.

Which services are commonly referred to students who disclose concerns about their studies:

  • Academic support services
  • Faculty program advisers
  • Faculty teaching staff
  • General student support
  • Counselling services


3. Effectively communicate with students on their own terms

Students often have very different preferences when it comes to how they would like to communicate with a university, and the circumstances in which they would like to access the support services available to them. For example:

  • Some would prefer to communicate in text, via email, instant messaging or SMS, while others could prefer phone or face-to-face contact.
  • When seeking information or advice, some may prefer dealing with a fellow student in a ‘peer-to-peer’ environment, while others will prefer to talk directly to faculty or university staff.
  • Students who are balancing study and work commitments may prefer to communicate and access services outside of normal business hours.
  • Many international students will feel more comfortable managing issues in their native language.


To maintain consistent engagement with your student cohort, and to increase the likelihood that they will make use of the support available to them in times of need, it’s vital that institutions adopt a multi-channel communication capacity. If an omnichannel approach is not feasible, it is important to at least run campaigns for short stints enabling students to leverage different communication channels with which they are most comfortable.


In this blog, we’ve looked at three different strategies for maintaining high levels of student engagement and wellbeing in times of crisis, and how to best tailor your communications for each student to maximise engagement:

  • Broadcast and promote updates and timely messaging that proactively address common concerns
  • Maintain an open line of communication throughout their journey through nurture and clear CTAs
  • Communicate with each student on their own terms


While many things are out of the control of an institution during a crisis, what can be controlled is how an institution responds to it, and how well they equip their student population to manage the crisis as best they can. By employing these strategies, you can help to make sure your students will be kept up-to-date and aware of the latest developments and the support services available to them, and will be able to communicate directly with the institution in a manner which is most comfortable to them.

If you want to have a chat about how QSES works with our clients to optimise omnichannel communication, create personalised nurture programs and achieve outstanding contact rates, get in touch with or click the button below.


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