While the pandemic has challenged the international education sector, I’m ever the optimist. In my career, I’ve dealt with many other disasters like SARS, terrorism, and financial crisis. From what I’ve seen, the market always rebounds.
For institutions to rebuild numbers, though, I believe agents are the key. COVID-19 has made agents institutions’ best partners to rebuild the pipeline. That’s because, without international travel, agents are the essential link to international students. They’re also highly influential when it comes to student decision-making.
But how can institutions nurture the agent relationship?
Train, train and train again
To ensure agents fully understand your value proposition, you must provide training. Just as a team member isn’t expected to know everything about an organisation without training, nor should agents. One thing I often tell institutions: treat agents as if they are team members, and they will perform as such.
Agents are your link to students––often the only link. By ensuring agents have a strong understanding of your institution and what you offer, you’re also ensuring that information reaches students too. Training, if done well, can increase agent loyalty to your institution.
That’s why it’s important to train, and train again.
To do this effectively, cover essential knowledge areas like intake dates, application processes, course offerings, available scholarships, and other factors which may be relevant to students.
Keep communications up
Agents have a plethora of global institutions to connect students with. Staying up-to-date with the latest news on every institution, particularly in uncertain times like these, is near-impossible for agents.
That’s why it’s important to communicate. Keep agents in the loop and let them know what’s happening at your institution. Are you offering online now, and in-person later? Ensure agents are the first to know.
Further, if your institution is offering discounts, extended scholarships, and flexible entry requirements: agents should have this information. As borders gradually open, and protocols at your institution change, there are many opportunities to provide updates and keep your institution front of mind.
Keep communication up by:
- Sending relevant updates
- Offering online webinars
- Asking agents how you can best serve them
- Hosting Q&As
We love your newsletters! so send these regularly and with bespoke information and updates as often as you can
Refine your strategy
I believe that agents are the key to rebuilding the pipeline. Agents, therefore, should be an integral part of the rebuild strategy. While we wait for a truly post-COVID world, there’s an opportunity to consider how to engage with agents moving forward.
Strategies that worked in the past may not work as well in the future. Consider whether your institution currently has the right strategy, or whether changing the number of agent partners might be fruitful. Will you focus on a few ‘heavy-hitters’, or broaden your approach to include new markets? These are important questions to ask.
I believe that agents are the key to rebuilding the pipeline.
While answers will vary between institutions, the most important thing is to create a strategy and include agents at the forefront of it.
It’s no secret that times are tough for the sector. But in my long career in the industry, I know for a fact international education isn’t going anywhere. And with vaccine rollouts looking promising, the return to normal may be sooner than we think.
Being the essential, and influential, link to international students, agents are your best partner in the post-pandemic world. Nurture the agent relationship by focussing on training, communication, and a relevant strategy, and it’ll put them in good stead to attract pre-COVID numbers—something all of us are keen to see.