Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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Agents report interest in study abroad is up significantly this year

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The ICEF Agent Voice survey finds that agents are optimistic and that most have developed new partnerships with educators during the pandemic
  • Visa refusal rates are a top concern among survey respondents
  • Agents’ portfolios are now far more likely to include online courses than before the pandemic
  • China’s border closures have dampened current demand to study there

Between January and May 2022, the latest cycles of ICEF’s Agent Voice survey series collected the impressions of education agents on topics including day-to-day agency operations, recruitment projections, destination attractiveness, student decision factors, and other market trends.

Launched in 2020, Agent Voice follows the ICEF i-graduate Agent Barometer’s 15-year annual survey programme, and is designed to gather more frequent insights from agents around the world.

Business getting back on track

The overall sentiment among agents this year is one of positivity. For example:

  • Agents say interest in studying abroad is up 73% in 2022 compared to 2021
  • 88% have entered into new partnerships within the past two years
  • 50% report more communication with educators they work with
  • Agents have also expanded and diversified the services they provide, including the 74% of respondents who say they facilitate international fee payments for students

That said, agents find visa refusal rates to be a concern for their students with many reporting lower-than-normal acceptance rates across major study destinations. While not specifically addressed in the survey, those reported refusal rates could also be related to acknowledged visa processing backlogs in many leading destinations this year.

Agents’ reports of visa approval rates for the five major English study abroad destinations.

Online in the portfolio

Over the course of the pandemic, agents have become much more comfortable representing online courses to students. Over half of them (54%) discuss online programmes with students, up from just 15% before the pandemic. Three-quarters would consider offering additional online programmes if clients wanted them to.

Agents’ new comfort with online courses – even now that in-person options have resumed – reflects their understanding that digital learning presents new opportunities and market segments, such as students with lower budgets or visa/travel challenges.

Ebbing demand for China

There is a correlation between the length of time a country’s government kept borders closed because of COVID-19 and current student demand to study in that country. Canada, the US, and UK have seen their popularity rise, Australia and New Zealand have made no gains, and China has lost appeal among students.

Agents surveyed between January and May of 2022 were asked whether students’ interest in a destination had increased, remained neutral, or decreased.

For additional background, please see:


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