Global education agents field strong demand amid changing visa conditions

With interest in international education surging and their partnerships with universities strong, education agents are now adjusting to shifts in destination markets and considering changing student visa conditions, according to data from a recent ICEF survey of hundreds of education agents worldwide. ICEF is a leading global professional networking organization for the international education sector.

Agents in large part used the disruptions presented by COVID-19 to broaden and enhance university partnerships, as well as diversify and innovate their offerings for international students, ICEF’s bi-annual “Agent Voice” research found. Some 88% of the 669 agents across 62 countries and nine regions (the largest representation being from India, Nepal and Canada) surveyed have established new partnerships in the past two years, and increased communication with partners. They’ve also increased their offerings – both for students and partners – to:

  • Help students facilitate tuition payments
  • Add products for insurance, accommodation and travel
  • Provide marketing support to universities in the form of digital marketing services, online events and consultancies

The flipside of surging interest (73% say it’s higher than 2021) and demand are concerns over student visa approval rates, with agents of the opinion that somewhere around 50% of visa applications globally would likely be approved, according to the research. While reasons behind potential visa processing delays are complex and country-specific, agents are aware and prepared for these circumstances.

Agents named the availability of visa processing as one of the most important decision-making factors in a student’s choice of education destination, topped only by cost of living, work and immigration opportunities. Personal safety and the health environment have dropped in terms of priorities.

Visa approval rates align with shifts in preferred study destinations. Agents say they're seeing more interest in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., where the number of anticipated visa approvals tops that 50% mark.

“New pre-pandemic rising star markets such as China, Malaysia and Singapore are struggling to maintain student interest in the experience of the agents we surveyed,” according to the report.

Other points of note include:

MBAs and vocational training are hot. Agents anticipate increased enrollment for many programs, with growing demand for graduate and MBA programs, undergraduate and vocational/certificate and diploma programs.

Agents value speed from partner schools. Agents value quick responses to queries and fast application processing most from their partner schools when it comes to successfully enrolling students.

Enthusiasm for offering more online programs is mixed. Slightly more than half of those surveyed offer or promote online education, with almost two-thirds of those offerings sparked by the pandemic. But the 46% of agents surveyed that don’t currently offer online programs aren’t too bullish on doing so in the future – saying it’s not what their clients seek.

Commission and payment structures remain largely unchanged. Commission and payment structures have remained consistent over the past 24 months. Percentages differ according to programs, but the largest portion of respondents receive commissions in the 11-20% range, followed by 0-10%.

Agent systems readiness lags. Some 67% report they have no software to manage commission payments, and invoicing processes are manual. A full 39% don’t have any CRM software to manage student information.

Want to access all of the data in the ICEF bi-annual Agent Voice survey? Download the full report here: