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Agents double down on US promotion amid Trump uncertainty

Education agents around the world are preparing to redouble their marketing efforts to encourage international students to study in the US, predicting a volatile landscape in the coming months. Some are bracing for the worst, while others suggest that although a Trump presidency might create some obstacles to students recruitment, the US’s wide appeal as a study destination will prevail.

"The ‘Trump Effect’ is likely to drive international students away from the USA,” one agent said. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

“We do not know how oil will react and how the dollar will react”

“It is in fact a bit scary; I believe the whole world is expecting [Donald Trump’s] first moves to be able to judge with more accuracy what the future will be,” commented José Carlos Hauer Santos, president of STB in Brazil. “Until then, volatility.”

“Since the message Trump has been sending for months is not particularly welcoming to foreigners, people will rather choose other destinations”

Nevertheless, there are some indicators that agents are watching to predict how the landscape of international education may change.

Chinese online agency 51Offer wrote in a blog post that a Trump victory is likely to stop F-1 student visa holders working on OPT – the US’s post-study work programme – and reduce the number of H-1B visas.

But, it added that “American universities enrol students independently; whoever comes to power will not have a large impact on them, there won’t be a sudden drop in entry visas for Chinese students.

“However, if work visas are affected, it will be a big deal in China.”

In Brazil, Santos meanwhile predicted that restrictions to J-1 or F-1 working holiday and student visas could prompt “an even bigger shift towards markets such as Canada, Ireland and Australia”.

Many agencies are also concerned about the impact that the divisive rhetoric of Trump’s election campaign may have on students’ desire to study in the US.

Maria Castro Blazquez of Linguland in Germany predicted that the election result “will have a negative impact on the USA as a destination”.

“Even though a weak dollar may result on cheaper rates on the short term, the ‘Trump Effect’ is likely to drive international students away from the USA,” she explained.

“Since the message Trump has been sending for months is not particularly welcoming to foreigners, people will rather choose other destinations.”

German students do take politics into consideration when selecting a study destination, added Hilka Leicht at Berlin-based agency, International Education Centre, which saw an upswing of interest in studying in the US when Barack Obama was elected eight years ago.

“We expect the opposite to happen now with Trump in power,” she said. “Students as far as I have learned are scared that [this is] somebody who officially does not support the democratic system or human rights.”

However, she said effective promotion could help to convince students that the US is still an option, and predicted interest will remain high “despite the difficulties that this country has to face right now. Or maybe even because of them.”

“So, it definitely will become more costly for US institutions to market in Germany, but enrolment numbers can still be good.”

Nevertheless, the perception of the US as an unwelcoming country under Donald Trump could drive students to competitor markets.

“Canada should be the big winner: It really has a good chance now to brand itself as ‘The New Land of Opportunities’,” noted Castro Blazquez.

Mark Ashwill, managing director of Capstone Vietnam, added that some Vietnamese students “and certainly many more students from countries whose populations Trump insulted in the campaign” will choose another overseas study destination “that is perceived as being more open and tolerant”.

For some markets, the result has been welcomed. In Russia, where trade sanctions and the rouble crash have curbed outbound study, Izabella Lauterpakht, owner of System-3 Education, nodded to Trump’s campaign desire to strengthen bilateral ties.

“My reaction was that our president will be happy,” Lauterpakht said. “I hope the students for language courses will grow in numbers.”

“What matters for an Indian student is the quality of education and opportunities back in their home country or in the US”

“I will be glad to see that sanctions become milder – this is one of the reasons people do not go abroad. They are worried that the children are going to be bullied at schools.”

However, the market response to an unexpected Trump victory is difficult to predict, and Lauterpakht noted that economic volatility could cause problems.

“We do not know how oil will react and how the dollar will react,” she explained. “Oil prices may fall and the dollar rate can grow dramatically [making study in the US unaffordable].”

One market where agents appear particularly optimistic is India.

“For an Indian student the outcome of the elections really doesn’t matter in terms of deciding the US as a destination of study,” commented Rahul Gandhi, managing director of Take off Educational Consultants in Gujarat.

“What matters for an Indian student is the quality of education and thereafter opportunities back in their home country or in the US too,” he stressed. “Return on investment does matter a lot to the Indian students.”

And Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Global Reach, suggested Trump’s interest in sustaining strong business links with India will bolster his image in the country.

“Donald Trump has indicated in clear terms during the election campaign that he is pro-India even though he may have sounded anti-China,” he noted. “There is an impression that India will be amongst the first countries that he will visit in his official capacity.”

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