What makes a great international recruitment agent?

“Beyond a robust knowledge of the admissions process, agents should also be prepared to help prospective students plan out their larger educational journey all the way through to employment”

Agents will play a vital role in achieving the UK government’s bold goal of increasing “the number of international higher education students hosted in the UK to 600,000 per year by 2030.” As the industry ramps up international recruitment to meet this goal, many institutions are working with agents for the first time, says Study Group’s chief revenue officer, Manoj Shetty.

At Study Group, we have been committed to international education for 26 years, working with more than 4,000 agencies in over 30 countries to recruit international students. Here are some of the considerations for choosing the ideal agents.

Agent readiness

Agents represent the first face-to-face contact that prospective students will have with an institution, so it’s essential that they make a good impression. A great agent is knowledgeable about the institution they represent, provides informative answers to questions and guides students effectively through the entire journey.

To ensure that agents are ready, institutions must give them detailed information and guidance. The more information the agent has, the more likely they are to match students to universities that best meet their needs. In addition to facts and procedures, it’s also worth providing talking points about the most unique and favourable parts of the institution and testimony from existing international students. While plenty of information is available online, an agent’s ability to share the positive experience of previous international students is uniquely valuable.

Connecting students with higher education institutions

Ultimately, an agent’s role is to connect motivated and committed students with appropriate institutions overseas.

Work as an agent is heavily dependent on trust, so it’s in their interest to provide a high-quality service. Supporting students to secure a university place reflects an agent’s ability to establish trust with students and parents, as well as their ability to identify and work with students that are the right fit for the institution in question. Agents with a poor understanding of entry requirements and student intentions, conversely, will struggle to recruit students.

High level of involvement in the pre-arrival, post-confirmation process

A good agent provides excellent service to students even after they have selected their program of study. A student’s opinion of their experience has significant weight, so institutions would do well to include questions on agent performance and professionalism as part of the formal post-arrival survey.

This engagement data can help the institution track agent performance and identify any potential issues or opportunities for additional training. Institutions can also share this data with agents, in the form of feedback or a star rating, to ensure that they maintain a high level of involvement throughout the entire process.

Agents are a part of a far larger system, and they need to be engaged to keep the process moving along. They should have a professional attitude toward providing market insights, signing documents, pre-vetting applications, customer support, counselling in the local language, and their other responsibilities.

Provide conduct guidelines

Many institutions set up a code of conduct to ensure that agents acting on their behalf behave appropriately. Earlier this year, in line with requests from the sector and the government, the Higher Education Policy Institute announced the creation of a national Code of Ethical Practice for UK Education Agents. Any agent working with a UK institution should adhere to the guidelines set out in this document.

Institutions are also free to set up their own additional guidelines. At Study Group, we have our own code of conduct which agents need to read and sign before they can submit applications through our system. Furthermore, all new agents go through a rigorous application and due diligence process before we onboard them to work with us.

Larger agencies

Institutions just setting out on their international student recruitment journey will need to consider the regions that are likely to have the largest number of potential students. While some institutions choose to work with a freestanding agency in each country, others prefer to work with larger agencies that span multiple countries – which is generally the better approach for institutions that are just getting started with their international outreach program.

Larger agencies also act as a useful point of contact for students of different nationalities in the destination market, and upholding their reputation incentivises them to provide outstanding service.

Working with agents in the future

Just as agents and agencies have a reputation to uphold, it’s also important for institutions to be forthright and communicative with them so they can attract the most skilled agents. By establishing clear expectations and maintaining a professional approach, institutions can ensure that prospective students have the best possible experience working with their agents.

Agents support international students with a range of choices, including determining which country, university and course are right for them. Beyond a robust knowledge of the admissions process, agents should also be prepared to help prospective students plan out their larger educational journey all the way through to employment.

Given current circumstances, agents should also offer advice on the flexible, on-campus, blended and online tailored learning options available, providing prospective students with a range of possibilities to suit their needs.

An institution’s relationship with an agent can only succeed when it works both ways. While this article has focused on the agent, institutions must also ensure that they provide their agents with the knowledge, skills and support to assist students effectively. When both parties play their part, international agents can achieve incredible results and leave international students feeling confident and well prepared.

About the author: Manoj Shetty is Chief Revenue Officer at Study Group. Manoj was appointed Chief Revenue Officer of Study Group on 1 January 2019, prior to that Manoj held the roles of Executive Director-Global Sales and Chief Sales Officer since April 2014. At Microsoft, Manoj held various leadership roles over his tenure of 11 years in Europe and Asia. Prior to Microsoft, Manoj worked in the Technology sector covering both start-ups and publicly listed businesses covering North America and EMEA.