The study, from non-profit education research group World Education Service (WES), surveyed nearly 1,600 prospective international students from 115 countries, all of whom were in the initial stages of applying to US higher education institutions, with just 16% using an agent.
It found 45% of the whole group were academically unprepared for their courses, based on whether they had previously taken an ESL course, which admissions test they had taken, and a self evaluation.
However, of those who used agents the percentage was much higher at 62%. More surprising, two thirds of this group had more financial resources than most.
Two thirds of academically unprepared students using agents were wealthy
“The findings highlight that students using agents may have more academic challenges as compared to self-directed students,” the report’s author, and director of WES Research & Advisory Services, Dr. Rahul Choudaha, told The PIE News.
“The agent-using segment of students may not only need help in preparing applications but may also need higher support services once they are on campus.”
While the survey’s stated aim was to help higher education institutions gain a deeper understanding of international higher education systems and students, Choudaha, an open critic of agent usage, said that the recurring debate on the use of agents in the US was a key motivation for carrying it out.
He said that institutions using agents needed to assess their capacity to provide ample academic support such as ESL and foundation courses before using the services of third party recruiters, or risk damage to their academic reputations.
“Some proponents continue to prescribe the agency model as a solution for all institutions and all students,” he said.
“Some proponents continue to prescribe the agency model as a solution for all institutions and all students”
“The implications of these findings for the institutions is in terms of their capacities and qualitative risk they are assuming in the process of using agents.”
The study also examines the informational needs of students worldwide concerning study abroad, finding variations by region and country. Respondents from Africa were much more interested in gaining information on financial aid opportunities than those from other regions, while those from the Middle East prioritised student services.
Use of social media, while increasingly important to recruiting institutions, also varied. Only 22% of international students from China used US platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as sources of information, compared to 88% from India.
Choudaha conceded that there was a sample-bias in the report as it surveyed only US-bound students – a country not as reliant on agent services as others. However, he argued that the findings could be representative of the global sector.