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Agent Management in International Education Marketing and Recruitment

From The Pie News more on the eternal agent debate, creates more questions, what about those who manage agents in international education, international students, SEO digital marketing strategies, visa, immigration and employment outcomes?


UK HE agent management needs reform, lacks transparency.  A charge of naivety has been levelled against some UK institutions dealing with education agents. A recent study of UK HEI agent policy clarifies a need for improved self-regulation in university-agent management, to avoid imposed government regulation, reduce chances of agent fraud, financial loss and reputational damage, the report’s authors claim.

The report, undertaken with support from the British Council, was written by Vincenzo Raimo, pro-vice-chancellor for global engagement at the University of Reading, Christine Humfrey, special professor in international education at the University of Nottingham and Iona Yuelu Huang, senior lecturer at Harper Adams University.

Having interviewed 57 staff from international offices in 20 UK HEIs, analysts found extensive inconsistencies across recruitment processes, training of staff, financial agreements, supervision of agents and agent incentivisation.

“I’m genuinely shocked about how naïve some of our approaches to agency management are,” Raimo told The PIE News. “The notion that ‘gentleman’s agreements’ absolve you from responsibilities and legal consequences is just a nonsense.”….


Timely article, but there are many issues not cited:

  1. Who frames the question and who manages the international education administrative managers (known as the ‘middle people’ or ‘pop stars’)?  In other words, there is a suggestion of a top down relationship that requires real expertise for one managing an agent, but what does that require?  Are top down  versus flatter structures, suitable for international education, digital economy and the new digital marketing environment?
  2. Have international managers adapted to the times of digital communications and marketing?  Why are administrative processes still revolving round physicality, i.e. international events, face to face conversations etc., at great expense vs SEO, Skype etc.?
  3. While it is assumed that agents can be aggressive in promotion and sales, it is often the university (manager whom in turn is managed) applying arbitrary recruitment targets (with no interest in marketing activity or student behaviour leading up to recruitment), that have to be reached for continuation of the agreement (and for the manager to be granted further ‘travel approval’ or a pat on the back), while ignoring medium term market or business development.
  4. Many university managers who are supposed to manage agents have neither skills set nor job description reflecting the recruitment field e.g. they can advise on neither visas, immigration, employment outcomes nor marketing.  The latter has been manifested by ongoing preference for ‘fly in fly out’ for ‘one off’ international events and ‘distribution of marketing materials’, using digital ‘outbound’ paid adverts to promote a physical event.
  5. Many international managers do not know or cannot explain how existing candidates came to be enrolled on campus which suggests lack of communication with and feedback from on campus students (to inform marketing and quality).
  6. Now digital is important e.g. 9/10 search online (through their own language) SEO search engine optimisation is essential, but many universities’ corporate management have given responsibility over to a digital or web team, viewing digital related as a ‘technical’ task, when it is more suited to the social sciences, and regional managers themselves (who often have no access to essential market intelligence).
  7. SEO for narrower online course search driven enquiries in target languages from anywhere in the world all year round requires ongoing feedback from and cooperation with students, agents and related for regional or language based marketing strategies.  However, this is precluded when international managers, agents, international admissions, international digital/SEO and on campus students are neither linked up nor leveraged for optimal marketing and recruitment.
  8. Universities may not realise that the marketing empirical field has changed due to digital, and especially SEO. If skillset required for SEO is neglected, how many international managers would be confident of remaining in their chosen field of international education (marketing)?

Related, how is it that now smaller institutions can have far higher visibility online versus larger universities, in many if not all markets.  Agents have a very powerful defence which is neither understood nor appreciated by universities (especially those who think they can do with out agents), and often happens accidentally.  Much of a universities visibility in a given market and/or language is due not to their own efforts, but ongoing SEO through agent (and related) websites, social media and SEO so it can be found in organic search results; cut the agents who in turn cut the back links to the university website can make a university invisible in that market or language.

Lesson is, good marketing is about feedback, communication and accumulating intelligence and resources, especially digitally, not about a manager mediating on one off physical phenomena versus the all year round digital empirical field.


For more information about international education, agent management, marketing and recruitment of international students and digital SEO marketing click through to AIEC

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