The panel discussion on educator-agent relationships at the EnglishUSA Stakeholders' Conference
EnglishUSA considers agency-school relationships

The future of educator-agency relationships was one of the main seminar topics at the EnglishUSA annual Stakeholders' Conference last week, with broad consensus of the enduring need for agency-based recruitment in the competitive recruitment environment.

Held during the two-day EnglishUSA event, which welcomed delegates from member Intensive English Programs (IEPs) and related industry associations, the special panel discussion featured Mike Fennell, Executive Director of the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC); Ian Cann, Development Director for ICEF; Steven Boyd, Director of International Admissions at the University of Bridgeport; and Barbara Dick, Executive Director of New York Language Center (NYLC).


Mike warned delegates that although the country remains the most popular destination for international students, it is losing market share every year. "In some ways, the US is immature compared to the other destinations. We are going to have to work harder and smarter."


He cited recent reports on agency usage in the USA, including research commissioned by Bridge Education Group that showed increasing agent usage at US higher education institutions, and a recent WES report on student satisfaction with the agency service. "Direct booking hasn't really transpired," he added.


Members of the panel expressed the belief that the sector has become a 'buyer's market' with agents in a position to choose partner schools. As a result, Ian urged schools to differentiate their offer and highlight the student experience.


He offered a number of suggestions for finding agents and building relationships, and urged schools to welcome agents on fam tours, to visit agency offices, and to have faith in the partnership. "A trusted agent is an extension of your school's international office," he said.


Providing advice on workshop attendance, he argued that 20 per cent of the work should come before an event in establishing who you want to meet and researching the companies that you have arranged to meet, and that half of the work comes after the conference.


Echoing some similar sentiments, Barbara outlined methods to distinguish a school, and suggested finding out which other schools agents work with, assuring agents of the student experience and that their clients will be treated as special, reinforcing trust and tailoring packages for agents.


She said that agents expect quick answers, clear and concise information, clear payment terms and comprehensive details on accommodation options. She said NYLC assigns one advisor to each new agent and attempts to reply within four hours.


Addressing the question of why to use agents, Steven stated that it was impossible for an institution to go everywhere and that many markets would be inaccessible without agents, and added that agents provide invaluable on-the-ground intelligence from recruitment markets.


He also underlined the "world of difference" that it makes to get agents on campus, and recommended a few key considerations before embarking on agency-based recruitment: how many agencies can a school work with; what vetting process to undertake; and whether the school is comfortable with sub-agents being used.


A full report on other aspects of the fifth annual EnglishUSA IEP Stakeholders' Conference will follow in the next couple of days, and images of the Networking Reception event held at the National Geographic Headquarters are in the StudyTravel Magazine Grapevine gallery.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor