This special feature is sponsored by Study UK.
Education agents have always played a key role in advising students and guiding them through the often-complicated process of applying to study abroad – including visa, travel, and housing arrangements and even settlement after arrival. Choosing where and how to study abroad remains among the most important life decisions that many students, and their families, will make, and so students and parents alike continue to place a high value on the local support and advice that a qualified education agent can provide.
This explains in part why agents have come to play a greater role in international student recruitment over the past decade and more. And it speaks as well to the influence that agents have in a student’s choice of study destination.
Roughly three in ten respondents to a March 2021 student survey conducted by the British Council said that they worked with education agents when planning their studies in the UK. And 90% of those said that agents were highly influential in their choice of study destination. An earlier survey conducted by World Education Services found a similar proportion of inbound students to the US were supported by agents, and the vast majority of those (83%) reported high levels of satisfaction with the services they received from their agents.
When we look outside of those surveys for broader indicators of the role of agents in international recruitment, we find examples like the February 2021 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) which reports that nearly half (49%) of US colleges are currently partnered with education agents. (This was up from the 36% of US colleges who reported recruiting through agents in 2017/18.)
In the United Kingdom – where nearly all higher education institutions and schools work with agents – it is estimated that 45–55% of foreign students in the UK have had the support of an agent in planning their studies.
The use of agents is also widespread in Australia, where agents accounted for three out of four international enrolments (75%) in Australian schools, vocational institutes, English-language training centres (ELICOS), and universities in 2018. The situation is similar in Canada, where international student numbers have roughly tripled over the past decade, and where nearly all institutions and schools are engaged with agents. By some estimates, about half of all foreign students in the country are agent-referred.
And now, at this advanced stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly clear that agents will have an even larger role to play going forward. Educators are of course keen to rebuild and diversify enrolments, but will rely more on in-market agents to do so in part because of continuing limits on travel overseas. And students and educators alike will need more assistance than ever in the months and years ahead as they navigate evolving travel restrictions, shifting market conditions, and the gradual resumption of visa processing and travel services.
Who supports the agents?
With all of that growing reliance on agents as recruitment partners, we also see a greater interest among agents in accessing more in-depth resources, training, and professional qualifications. There are tens of thousands of agents worldwide. The field is highly competitive and, more recently, has been characterised by an expanding range of participants, including large, venture-backed agent aggregators; prominent international agent networks; independent agents based in sending countries; and a growing number based in leading study destinations as well.
Whenever agents are asked how their work can be better supported, training ranks very high among their responses. In an agent survey conducted by Australia-based International Education Services, for example, nearly 85% of respondents rate training from educators as “very important”. And responding agencies indicated a clear preference for training delivered via self-directed resources online.
Along with resources and training supports provided by educators, agents can now also take advantage of an expanding range of destination-focused training programmes. These courses provide targeted training for agent-based counsellors, and, in some cases, can also serve as a basis for further study or qualifications.
In the UK, for example, Study UK – the UK’s national campaign promoting UK education to international students, delivered by the British Council in partnership with the UK government’s GREAT Britain campaign – offers a course specifically for agents recruiting for UK higher education institutions. “Study UK: A Guide for Education Agents” is an introductory course for current or aspiring agents who want to establish a solid foundation for advising students on UK study. The course is free, is delivered entirely online over a three-week cycle, and agent trainees can access the course materials on-demand to study at their own pace.
“Study UK: A Guide for Education Agents” is built around several core topics, including:
- why students choose to study in the UK;
- best practice for advising on course selection;
- the application process for UK higher education;
- UK visa and immigration policy, including the new Graduate Route;
- support services at UK institutions;
- the learning environment at UK universities; and
- resources available to support agents.
Trainees that successfully complete the course are eligible to receive a digital certificate as evidence of their participation, and it is clear from earlier course cycles that agents value the course content highly. “A great course with lots of information and insights for the agents who are recruiting international students for the UK,” said one trainee. “For an aspiring education agent as I am, the course touched every aspect of all that need being learned,” added another. “I enjoyed the interactive parts of the course where we could share our opinions.”
The current cycle of the course is open for registration and runs from 7 March to 8 May 2022. For additional information, or to register, please consult the course listing on FutureLearn. For more information about Study UK, visit https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org.