Education agents turn to technology as demand for services soars

Many education agents are still relying on manual processes and spreadsheets to run their businesses at a time when demand for their services is surging and the ecosystem itself grows more complex.

An ICEF survey of hundreds of education agents worldwide found that while big advances in areas such as digital marketing were made over the past two years, much of the day-to-day business operations haven’t been digitized or automated. Many surveyed said they didn’t have invoicing software, CRM software or technology to manage and receive commission payments.

This lack of digitalization meets a complex working environment – but one that is also rich with opportunity.

Demand for international education continues to surge, with 73% of agents reporting it is higher than it was in 2021. In turn, universities globally are increasingly relying on education agents as crucial parts of their international student recruitment strategies.

At the same time, master agents, many of whom have long-standing agreements with universities, are facing competition from aggregators, who use advanced technologies to facilitate international student recruitment. And both master agents and aggregators rely heavily on sub-agents, who do much of the legwork in international student recruiting.

“This increasing complexity is creating an urgency to adopt technology, and pushing the entire channel toward digitalization, which is good for everyone involved,” said Mina Fakhouri, who is VP, Global Agents & APAC at Flywire. “But the channel is not completely there yet.”

What do the tech landscapes of many agents look like? ICEF’s survey shows that:

  • 39% have no CRM or software to manage student information
  • 65% are manually invoicing clients and using Excel for tracking
  • 67% have no software to manage commission payments

Forward-thinking agents are finding early wins in technology investments. One of the first priorities for agents surveyed is payments-related technology:

  • 44% are launching financial products
  • 26% are using a payment platform to assist students with payments to education institutions

Agents are particularly important in advising the student payment process, as families trust them to provide guidance on what is a major life expense. It’s likely one of the reasons why more agents are providing access to payment portals. This not only gives agents the ability to walk families through the payment process, but also offer competitive rates and flexible payment options alongside the ability to track payment through to the university.

For the agents themselves, a significant area of opportunity for digitalization comes in the process of invoicing the universities or their partners for their services. By digitizing the invoicing and payment process, agents are now able to streamline the entire transaction from invoicing through receipt and reconciliation.

What’s more, when they receive tuition payments through a digital payment platform, universities can more easily track and manage those tuition payments from international students, as well as adopt additional functionality to track and pay agent commissions, and even use data to measure agent performance.

Adopting technology will help education agents scale services as demand surges. Education agents have been a big part of the international student recruitment process in Canada and the U.K. for many years, and are starting to gain a foothold in the U.S. as well.

In Canada, ICEF research shows that nearly all higher education institutions are engaged with education agents – and roughly half of students are referred by agents. In the U.K., BUILA’s 2021 survey showed that of the 105 respondents at U.K. higher education institutions, all were using at least one education agent, with some using up to 400. And in the U.S., where the agent market is nascent, the industry got a boost this year when an earlier law that unintentionally introduced blockers to agent use was amended to permit it. The most recent information from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling saw almost half of survey respondents currently partnering with agents to recruit undergraduate international students.

Digitalizing the entire education agent channel will make the many parts of the international student recruitment process easier and more seamless for the entire chain – from the student, to the agent, to the institution.

Want to learn more?

Visit ICEF to download the latest bi-annual Agent Voice survey report.

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