November 25, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to adjust to the rapidly changing landscape in international student recruitment. With strong demand for reliable sources of latest details, content marketing is at the forefront for marketers today.
A new report by QS reveals that international students are now relying more than ever on education agents in their study abroad decision-making process.
Agents have, for years, played a major role in student recruitment, often being the first point of in-country contact for many prospective students around the world. They provide cultural awareness and regional market intelligence that universities rely on. With travel budgets of universities/colleges cut, travel restricted and face-to-face student fairs not possible, education agents are an obvious solution to help fill the gap in recruitment efforts. A recent AgentBee article suggests that agent use is primed for growth in 4 of the 5 key study destinations, with only Australia close to saturation point. It expects US, UK, Canada and New Zealand to all increase their reliance on agents in the coming years.
There is also no doubt that education institutions will re-assess their working relationships with agents to see which agents they must continue to work with and how they will work with them to get optimum results in student enrollments. Agents who keep themselves updated on course offering, intake start dates, fees, scholarships and policy changes such as the latest travel, visa & learning conditions will stand out.
In the current scenario, education institutions who know how to integrate agents into their international marketing efforts will stand to gain an important edge in target countries.
Those universities & colleges who are not yet working with agents might well want to look at a recent QS Chart which shows that there has been a dramatic 7.8% year-on-year increase in agents influence on student acceptance of offers from Australian universities. Another recent QS Report shows that 65% of prospective students said that they found agents to be useful in helping them study overseas. The report also notes that while the use of agents can be helpful, it is also important for admissions staff at universities to communicate with students directly, as information that comes right from the institution is viewed as the most authoritative by students.
Jack Zissler, a Vietnam-based agent provides an interesting perspective to what needs to be done between educators and agents, and even suggests a rethink of the current reliance on commission-based compensation schemes. He says – “Who is thus in a position to aid school brand awareness in markets? Agents. Schools seem to recognize this, yet in-market strategies are though out in conference rooms in Toronto, Sydney or London. This does not work. Forward-thinking schools are proactively working with agents to develop marketing strategies that work. They trust them to implement these campaigns and not disappear in the middle of the night. They pay up-front for services rendered and they are successful.”
Meanwhile, in their 2019 report, ICEF found that the most popular programmes that agents referred international students to were undergraduate & postgraduate programmes (78% & 74% respectively), followed by English language programmes (68%), MBA and diploma programmes (60% each) and university foundation & pathway programmes (59% & 58% respectively). What all this points to is that agents are set to remain a major force in international student recruitment in the coming years and that universities must continue to build strong relationships with them in order to expand their international student recruitment in the future.
To continue to expand and identify the right international students, universities will need to cultivate close relationships with agents. However, this does not mean that agents should determine all aspects of that relationship. Universities must decide who they choose to work with and how they work together in a proactive fashion. This must be informed by data and regional awareness. There is no better time to reconsider the way forward with agent management.