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“Agents are here to stay” says OBHE, i-Graduate research

Despite speculation about the role of education agents in the student recruitment process, new research is showing rapid increases in agent usage since 2007. Preliminary findings from a study carried out by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) indicate that 92% of all UK respondent universities work with education agencies, for example, as do all Australian universities.

"It's fair to say that like rankings, agents are here to stay"

OBHE and its parent company i-Graduate are finalising research that indicates that agent usage has grown considerably across all major markets, including the USA, which has until recently been averse to using them.

According to data from i-graduate’s international student barometer, students indicating that an agency helped them choose an institution for study increased from 10% in 2007 to 28% in 2013, peaking at 29% in 2012.

“The level of agent usage by students is high, and increasing, in spite of the misgivings that the US as a sector has with using agents”

Looking at key student source markets, the difference is even greater. Chinese students saying they used agents increased from 19% seven years ago to 45%. Indian students’ usage rose from 32% to 43% over the period while Nigerians using agents grew from 11% in 2007 to 30% in 2013.

“It’s fair to say that like rankings, agents are here to stay,” William Lawton, Director of the UK-based OBHE told The PIE News.

Other figures from the study, which was originally presented in Miami at the British Council’s annual policy conference, Going Global, show a contrast in agent usage in the US.

Of the international students studying in the US, 29% in 2012 and 28% in 2013 said agents helped them to choose an institution for study. Meanwhile, just 11% of US universities in 2012 reported using agents to recruit international students.

“This is not a contradiction,” said Lawton. “It suggests that the level of agent usage by students is high, and increasing, in spite of the misgivings that the US as a sector has with using agents. It’s an entirely different dynamic from the institution-agent relationship.”

Until September last year, using commission-based education agents was not approved by the 13,000-strong National Association of College Admission Counselling (NACAC) in the USA.

The organisation changed its statement of good principles to say members who “choose” to use incentive based agents must “ensure accountability, transparency and integrity”.

No concrete figures are available for the number of institutions in the US who use agents but the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC)- which has has more than 200 academic members almost all of which use agents- estimates around 400-500 US institutions had contracts with agents last year.

For the study, the OBHE surveyed universities in seven countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US, UK, Malaysia, the Netherlands in 2012.

The countries that reported using agents the most were Malaysia, Australia and Canada – each recruiting 56%, 53% and 41% respectively

The countries that reported using agents the most were Malaysia, Australia and Canada – each recruiting 56%, 53% and 41% respectively of all international students.

Survey respondents were overall positive about their relationships with agents and said they met their targets as well as allowed universities to have a constant presence in key markets.

Conversion rates also appear to be higher for educators using agents in top study destinations including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Malaysia. Overall, conversion rates among institutions using agents were 42% while among those who didn’t they were 35%.

The discrepancy was seen most in the Netherlands where agents usage resulted in a 44% conversion rate compared with just 19% among intuitions who didn’t use agents at all.

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