How will education agents expand their service offerings this year?

Media article published by ICEF Monitor on 27 November 2019.

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • New research points to an increasing interest among education agents in expanding the range of services they provide to international students
  • Expanded accommodation, insurance, and financial services are some of the clear priorities in this respect, followed by immigration consulting and other student supports

Recent surveys of education agencies clearly point to a growing interest on the part of agents in expanding the range of services that they offer. The survey findings highlight both that some agents have already taken steps to expand their offerings to students and that others are increasingly interested in doing so.

For example, one recent survey conducted by insurance and payment services provider Cohort Go gathered responses from more than 400 agencies primarily based in key Latin American and Asian markets. In the resulting survey report, The State of Education Agents 2019, Cohort Go observes:

“Rarely do two sets of data so clearly articulate the direction in which an industry could be headed. Cohort Go’s Aussie Study Experience Annual Report 2019 highlights accommodation and payments as not just key pain points for students studying overseas, but areas where agents are under-utilised… [Meanwhile, up to] three quarters of agents highlight student health insurance (78.02%), global payment services (73.09%) and student accommodation (64.2%) as opportunities to provide essential services. All three are areas in which students either already feel comfortable working with agents or have expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo.”

The State of Education Agents 2019 is informed in part by an earlier Cohort Go study, the Aussie Study Experience Annual Report 2019, which relies on survey responses from nearly 700 international students in Australia.

That study found that only a relatively small percentage of students (12%) booked their accommodations in Australia through their education agent, with much larger proportions arranging housing directly with an accommodation provider (40%), a real estate agent (15%), or via other means (26%). This is an especially notable finding given the prominent role of agents in the Australian market. As we reported recently, roughly three in four foreign students in the country are referred by agents.

In unpacking the reasons behind the relatively low level of agent participation in booking Australian accommodations, however, Cohort Go notes that, “The vast majority of problems emerge around communication and uncovering information, highlighting why third-party booking solutions are booming. Almost half (46.67%) of agents find knowing if there is availability with certain providers or hosts to be a major pain point, while about a quarter (24.20%) run into problems because they can’t book on behalf of students. Almost one in five agents say (18.52%) transparency around rates is their biggest problem when dealing with providers.”

Cohort Go’s research also highlights some of the pain points around making international payments where agents, educators, and service providers could further collaborate: 49% of student-respondents noted transaction fees as a concern whereas four in ten (42%) expressed an interest in payment plans. A third of students were looking for more global transfer options and one in five (20%) said that better customer support would have made the payment process easier.

These findings around a growing agent interest in adding new service areas are broadly echoed by the recently released ICEF i-graduate Agent Barometer. This annual survey drew more than 2,000 responses this year from education agents around the world, and respondents expressed a strong interest in expanding their offerings in a variety of areas. As the following chart reflects, accommodation was at the top of this list, followed by insurance and financial services and immigration consulting.

Service areas of greatest interest to agents responding to the 2019 ICEF i-graduate Agent Barometer survey.

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