Are you keen to recruit international students? Have you considered using education agents to help you with student recruitment? Would you like to expand your network of agents?
The use of education agents to recruit international students is becoming increasingly common around the world, to the point where agents are driving significant proportion of international enrolments to universities, colleges and schools worldwide.
Education agents operate extensively in all the key international student recruitment markets. They vary from very large global companies to small one or two person operations. They play a major role in recruiting students to universities, colleges and independent schools and are primary intermediaries for institutions and influencers of students’ decisions.
Students’ use of agents
The British Council conducted research on 90 000 prospective international students over the last five years. They found that 40% of prospective students considering studying overseas have used or planned to use the services of an education agent. This is an increase from 10% in 2007. In some countries the use of agents is very high: in China 45% of students use agents, in India 43% and in Nigeria 30%. Students and parents use agents to arrange study abroad either because they lack knowledge and understanding of overseas education systems or (even where they have obtained their own placement) because they lack the time or confidence to complete the necessary formalities, especially visa application procedures, without help, and are happy to pay for assistance from an agent.
Why Use Education Agents?
As well as realizing greater marketing efficiencies and cost-effectiveness, there are many other advantages of outsourcing student recruitment to education agents:
Over 30% of Institutions in the United States, 70% of Canadian and almost all UK universities use agents- for universities, colleges and schools around the world using agents has become standard practise.
Agents provide useful value-added services to students. For instance, they can help with student application forms, taking care of travel arrangements, insurance, accommodation or exam preparation.
The agent contribution in information transmission and help with processing is considered especially important during the visa acquisition. All the aspects covered above, such as language proficiency and cultural interpretation, are involved in assisting students through this essential phase. There is considerable unanimity among the institutions as to the benefits the agents bring to this- There are questions that an agent can answer- how difficult is it to get a visa in Nigeria or Mexico? for example.
Visa assistance: If a visa is needed it is usually easier for the agent to apply to the respective consul section, as they will likely have developed a good rapport and reputation with the relevant visa office. They can help students fill in application forms and guide them through the interview process.
Agents also give valuable counselling, saving students “time and helping them make their decision by providing useful information (e.g., about the study location, local transport, the cost of living, weather, social etiquette, cultural and social life, food, etc.).
Markets are large, dynamic, difficult and competitive agents are vital not only for universities but also smaller colleges and schools who don’t necessarily have to resources to target a large number of countries.
Those who manage budgets for international recruitment are conscious of the size of agent commission and the proportion of the budget so expended; but they are also conscious of the fee income produced and its contribution to overall student numbers.
Universities colleges and schools use agents both because of their strategic commitment to international student recruitment and because of the distinctive roles and functions of agents. The former relates to the need for increasing numbers as well as the desire for the diversity international students bring to the institution.
Wider Constellation of Providers
The benefits of recruiting students from a wider range of countries, partly to decrease dependence on one or two major ‘Providers’ and so reduce risk, and partly, perhaps as a more enlightened vision, to ensure a strong mix of cultures and nationalities within the institution’s community.
The community of international students is seen as important as the number recruited.
Diversity within Disciplines
Agents offer diversity of community as well as discipline and can be used to enhance recruitment to one discipline over another.
Low Financial Risk
Agents are usually paid between 2.5 and 15% usually on a commission only basis- whilst agreements may be made to support agents with marketing and other costs there remains little financial risk.
There’s no limit to the number of agents and countries you can recruit from- if they a good working relationship is in place institutions are relieved of the necessity to visit every country you recruit from.
Agents are almost always happy to expand the range of options they can provide to their students so are keen to make partnerships with institutions around the world.
Rather than inundated with enquiries and applications institutions can use Agents as a buffer to ensure the best quality applicants- agents are readily able to identify applicants that will be more suitable candidates.
Agents are particularly useful in ‘lesser known’ markets
Agents help to establish an institution where there was previously little or no representation. When considering new market entry the lesser known markets were believed to be more dependent on agent support. Institutions become more confident and competent in establishing themselves in a new market having benefited previously from agent involvement.
Some institutions were not totally convinced of the advantage of using agents, or believed that agents were only useful in some countries, and at some stages of institutional market development. Examples of the former were Indonesia where potential students were spread across a huge land mass in contrast to Singapore which was considered more manageable. In addition, in this case, UK universities had long experience of Singapore and its students and mores, as the British Council had opened one of its first three specific recruitment offices there in the early 1980’s. Indonesia, on
For many institutions it is easier to get the funding to pay the commission on increased numbers – post hoc, rather than to bid for increased staff or marketing spend, which appeared to have less certain outcomes.
One of the reasons for engaging agents is to increase the student registrations and applicant satisfaction, and to release staff time to pursue other international marketing activities and to make the marketing budget stretch more effectively.
While agents were always mentioned in the context of income there was a view that they could provide access to networks and allowed a spread of effort without the institution being committed to expending too much time and energy in less certain markets.
Permanent or even temporary home based staff together with travel costs and overseas visit arrangements especially in high expenditure countries such as Japan and South American countries would need to be, in the view of many of the respondents, considerably increased if agents could not cover the regions required. This was particularly stressed as important in emerging markets where the institution had a history of small numbers of candidates and countries where large landmass had to be covered. Of these it was said, “The cost of going there is so high and the return on investment is not there”.
Local knowledge and cultural bridges
There was some reliance on the additional knowledge and competence in the language of the country that agents could offer, and examples were given of setting up first language web sites and booking rooms for interviews and organising local events. Talking to student families and sponsors was also a consideration. This key contact with families and the society from which the student came built on “a wealth of local knowledge, expertise, and cultural expertise…building links” was quoted as a significant benefit by several universities.
Local knowledge incorporates basic explanations of culture and custom and specific information about educational qualifications, the reputation and ranking of the institutions, and subject specialities and strengths. This is data that can often be found on websites but is more effectively conveyed face to face in country. It helps universities make the right level of offer. They also have the experience to discuss trends and past data and changes. So “building up a kind of picture of the new market will be of extra value”.
There is expectation that agents will be market aware and conduits of information and networks.
“They’re kind of like our eyes in the market and they keep in touch with us in the development phases.”
the national culture of some of the larger countries like India, Indonesia and China can be partially understood by the British traveller, the regional culture and dialects need the presence of a local agent.
People would like to talk to people from their own province, work with an agent who understands the dialect
“There are so many different sides of China. There are so many second and third tier cities. People would like to talk to people from their own province, work with an agent who understands the dialect.”
In the same way India presents an issue and agents are seen to be able to “…reach parts of countries that we might not be able to”.
“They’ve got a wealth of local knowledge, expertise, and cultural experience.”
It is believed that well-chosen agents can also “tap into student markets that we wouldn’t get access to otherwise”. Language needs more interpretation than simple translation in many countries and the successful agent can manage the dialogue and the intercultural interaction.
You have to have an agent to negotiate with that culture
Respondents in the research also identified the importance of connectivity and the networking that agents were able to provide. They identified contacts in local schools and universities and they “knew which kind of universities to target as well”. They make introductions, help to build partnerships with appropriate institutions and help to search out sponsors “particularly at postgraduate level“. Some of the examples of this provided by the universities are “contacts with scholarship agencies, with the Ministry of Education people…and with school councillors“. Others have provided networking opportunities “with appropriate business people“. They will have the knowledge of the people to meet, and of the influencers, sponsors and stakeholders. Such networking generally is most effective in smaller countries or communities where a well-placed agent can be connected to, and known by, a high proportion of the community.
Agents when managed successfully do not simply recruit students to the institution but also raise the brand image of the institution, and possibly the UK, make a positive impression on the market, meet a need that students and parents express and further the reputation and the contacts of the institution in that area. All of these tasks might be achieved by UK representatives but as previously mentioned time, resource and opportunity cost do not allow that in a number of institutions and importantly the good agent brings additional value to the transaction.
Education is more than a commodity to be sold for a price, it is a contract between parties of an especially sensitive and precious nature. Parents are particularly aware of this. Certain students might, in some countries not yet exposed to westernized culture, be more needful of help and support in making an application. The role of the agent is especially valued by parents- They can see in person, speak to a real person and that can be a bit more reassuring- it could be their first time sending children away from home- it’s a big for them.
In the culture of some countries working with agency services is seen as the proper way of undertaking transactions and, therefore, more acceptable and more reliable. In certain countries students will only want to be advised by agents
The role of go between or conduit is much appreciated by the parents who often feel that the agent offers a reassurance and is someone who can be in touch with the institution, if anything goes wrong. The constant presence which an agent could provide is well recognised by most institutions. “It’s about that continuity, having some presence there when children have left the country- an agent can provide a continuous service all the way through.
Introducing Lesser Known Institutions
They are thought to add particular value to the lesser-known institutions in this way as, by helping to recruit the first of the students they assist the work of word of mouth and become a conduit for stories of satisfaction from the students recruited through them.
Encourage Appropriate Applications
Agents can ensure that students of the right quality in terms of screening students. This ‘sifting’ is time saving for the institutions.
In-country agents could identify fraud, identification of fraudulent documents and applications.
Collection of deposits can also be managed by the agents in country provided they understand the regulations and code of conduct for doing so.
If staff are visiting a country Agents can offer help with travel, local knowledge for making arrangements, assistance in a crisis like “loss of wallet and passport“, reassurance in countries where there are real safety issues and genuine friendly support.
Agents can also provide services which the less well-resourced institutions find especially helpful in their ability and willingness to set up meetings and assist with alumni activity. Agents can help organise alumni gatherings and relationships, arranging meetings with universities, sponsors and schools well in advance of the institutional visit
Institutions are helped by the free-flow of information from agents and can get a better awareness of what others in the market are offering or what applicants find desirable.
Agents are more familiar with the systems that institutions set up and the problems that can occur. While students may not feel they are in a position to make requests to the universities, colleges or schools directly, agents certainly do and can sort out issues such as letters or documents that are missing and help speed up the process.
Have a basic set of criteria that we give to people that we are interested in signing up. Prospective agents may be asked to provide:
- A business licence
- A brochure
- Agents promotional information
- Agency ownership
- Size and presence
Set a target – a realistic target over a trial period.
Consider a three-year business plan in terms of target numbers
This will give an indication of skill, intent and professional behaviour.
Institutions entering a new country market may consider the benefit of working with a larger and more high profile agency. However, smaller and middle size agencies may work more closely with parents and offer greater loyalty to your institution. The smaller agencies will be more accepting of training and more interested in a closer relationship.
An Institution’s status or ranking is not the only determinant of power. Willingness/ ability to accept volume intakes at desired levels (admission requirements) could make a so-called lower status Institution much more financially attractive to an agent than a higher ranked university with more limited volume intake and frankly harder work in terms of finding suitable candidates who meet the requirements. Each Institution should use its own distinct strengths to ensure its position vis a vis agents is appropriately balanced.
Monitoring student numbers and auditing performance is an ongoing activity by many institutions
Training and support
Training and support are positive and a clear part of the Institution’s responsibility to the agent. Annual review, for example, is part of training, and just as likely to lead to positive as to negative outcomes- a review means that any weaknesses on either side of the university-agent partnership can be addressed.
Feel free to download sample agreements
agency_agreements/aiec.idp.com/uploads/pdf/Thu 1210 Markus Badde.pdf
Terms and Conditions
Institutions generally put in place explicit statements and contracts
Cost of Using Education Agents
Typically Agents usually charge between 2.5 and 15% for commission- whilst agreements may be made to support agents with marketing and other costs
Institutions generally offer successful agents some percentage of the student’s first-year tuition.
Institutions may set different commission rates for agents in different countries or for different courses of study.
In some cases, in more competitive local markets commission may be higher
How to Partner with Education Agents
Building Agent Capacity
The Education Agents Marketing Database is designed to help you reach out to agents around the world and is ideal for email marketing to help you create and increase your network of agents to help you recruit international students from 132 Countries.
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Education Agents Marketing Database
The Education Agents Marketing Database is ideal for email marketing to help you recruit agents and students from 132 Countries.
The Database has now been updated to include 15000+ agent subscribers from around the world who will be keen to partner with you.
15 000 agent contacts details as follows:
- Contact Name
- Agency Name
- Agent Address
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Education Agent contact details are derived from subscribers to our Education Agents Guide website.
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Education Agent Country Breakdown
|Countries: 132||Education Agents: 15 550|
|United Arab Emirates||36|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Papua New Guinea||1|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1|
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