Agents of Change? International Student Recruitment and Relationship Building


Across most of the globe, education agents have become an accepted part of the university admissions process. After years of treating them with scepticism, even the US market is slowly coming around. Domestic college enrollment in the US is in decline, and agents represent an obvious solution: international students are an enthusiastic, and growing demographic - OECD data suggests that demand for an international education is growing by 6% a year. 

In addition, more efforts have been made on a sector-wide level to address the perceived ethical issues. In 2013, after two years of debate, The National Association for College Admission Counselling (NACAC) lifted the ban on working with agents, having previously ruled against the practice.

Using agents can help universities increase enrolments from international markets, and almost a third of US institutions are using them to spearhead their international recruitment drives. But what does this mean for universities – and most importantly, what does it mean for students?

How agents can support universities and students

“The burgeoning international education sector has attracted poor as well as outstanding agencies”, said Markus Badde, CEO of ICEF. Most institutions are acquainted with the poor practices of unethical agents: the misrepresentation of students and colleges, the essay-ghost-writing – in some instances, the outright fraud. The myriad benefits of good agents are nowhere near as widely publicised.

At their best, agents can serve as vital contacts for universities and students alike. They need to prove to students that they understand the institution, that they understand the market, and that they not only have the necessary connections in place, but agreements with the universities in question. They should also have a detailed understanding of the US educational system and the programs that the universities they work with offer. The most experienced act as coaches of a kind, preparing new undergraduates and postgraduates for the academic rigours they’ll face and the lifestyle adjustments they’ll need to make in order to succeed. Almost as importantly, they need to reassure worried parents that their child is safe in their hands.

In the UK, the government believes that agents provide a “cost-effective approach to the challenge of recruiting simultaneously in a number of countries, and provide valuable local knowledge and routes for connecting with potential students”, and students appear to agree: some 40% of prospective and current foreign enrollees plan to make use of their services, or have done so already.