Navigating the Rising Demand for International Recruitment Agents
The primary appeal of agent partnerships for universities is the influence agents have on prospective international students, especially in the mega-markets of China and India. A well-managed and dedicated agent network can serve as eyes and ears on the ground in key markets, an important asset during times of uncertainty.
Restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have severely limited the ability of universities to recruit and enroll international students over the past 16 months. This is a severe blow considering that U.S. institutions hosted over one million international students and collected $20 billion in tuition revenue from them in 2019. Those students have suffered, too, their lives uprooted, education disrupted, or dreams deferred.
Now, with COVID on the downswing and a more welcoming stance toward international students from the new Biden administration, colleges and universities are diving back into international student recruiting. At the recent EducationUSA Forum, Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin set ambitious goals and an optimistic tone.
“If we work together, I’m confident that we’ll not only return to the pre-pandemic levels of international students in American institutions of higher education, but surpass them,” he said. “It’s good for the values that matter most to us, and I believe it’s good for people around the world.”
Many colleges and universities are embracing that optimism, making up for lost time with an eye on COVID-related budgetary anxieties and the looming higher ed enrollment cliff. But if they are to be successful, universities and international recruitment professionals will need to adapt their strategies to a market that has changed drastically, and learn how to thrive in a world of uncertainty.
Banking on a Rebounding Market
Students and universities weren’t the only ones who took a hit in the last 18 month; international recruiting agents and agencies reported a 90-percent drop in business in late 2020. These agents or companies are contracted and paid by educational institutions to provide representation abroad and recruit international students to those institutions. Usually, they are paid a per-student commission by partner schools after a referred student enrolls. Agents have played a major role in international student recruitment for years, but many saw their business models evaporate overnight in March of 2020. Now, those who have weathered the storm are hoping for a boost, and demand for their services may well soar as institutions try to make up for the lack of traditional recruitment travel and in-person student fairs.
Banking oThe Value of International Recruitment Agents
Students and universities weren’t the only ones who took a hit in the last 18 month; international recruiting agents and agencies reported a 90-percent drop in business in late 2020. These agents or cThe primary appeal of agent partnerships for universities is the influence agents have on prospective international students, especially in the mega-markets of China and India. The QS 2020 International Student Survey, compiled from close to 80,000 responses, showed a majority of students reported to trust agents to have accurate and up-to-date information about universities; 37 percent said an agent will influence their college choice; and 65 percent said agents were useful in pursuing study overseas.
Telltale signs of unethical agent behavior include the agent seeking to bypass or modify application requirements, or routinely referring students who are unqualified or lack knowledge about your school and programs.
“Recruitment agencies are often incredible partners who offer market intelligence, on the ground presence, and long-term engagement with high-quality students who match the necessary academic profile,” said George Kacenga, Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Purdue University Northwest.
A well-managed and dedicated agent network can serve as eyes and ears on the ground in key markets, an important asset during times of uncertainty. It is a service in high demand: NACAC and AIRC reported in February 2021 that almost half of survey respondents currently partner with agents to recruit, and 5 percent were just beginning to in response to the pandemic. Of those who used agents, 34 percent reported increasing the number of agent partners in 2020. As universities look ahead to a recruitment landscape still encumbered by the pandemic, agent partnerships could fill gaps in their recruitment and marketing efforts, providing them a more reliable connection to prospective students than virtual recruitment efforts can provide.
The Prevalence of Unethical Agent Practices