Report: Agents forecast robust growth in global student mobility

The latest ICEF Agent Voice survey anticipates a strong uptick in international student enrolments for 2023-2024, with agents expanding their referral destinations and study fields. Despite cost remaining a primary concern for students, new fields like data science and AI are gaining traction.

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The most recent findings from ICEF’s Agent Voice survey have painted a promising picture for the growth of global student enrolments in the 2023-2024 academic year. Agents who serve as critical intermediaries in the educational sector reported an increased optimism and a diversification in both the destinations and fields of study for prospective students.

Data gathered in Q3 of 2023 from 662 agents across 92 countries shows an anticipated increase in enrolment across various programmes, with pathway, undergraduate, graduate, and MBA courses seeing the most significant rise.

ICEF Agent Voice


Economic considerations at the forefront of destination choice

Affordability remains the chief concern among students when choosing international study destinations, which influences agents to consider a broader range of countries that offer competitive pricing. Indeed, cost considerations surpass other factors such as work and immigration prospects, institutional ranking, and visa processing times.

Concurrently, agents are expanding the academic horizons of students by guiding them into emerging fields like data science, AI, and international business, which align with the fast-paced technological advancements in the global economy.

Despite the inclination towards more affordable study options, the survey reported a slight decrease in agents offering online programmes. Yet, for those continuing to offer them, the reasons are strategic, including improving access for students with budget constraints and acting as stepping stones towards in-person international learning and potential visa avenues.

Changes in recruitment and enrollment

Agents recruiting international students primarily struggle with finding qualified leads, as reported by 43 percent of them. Visa and entry requirements are another significant obstacles cited by 30 percent of agents. Institutions can best support agents by quickly responding to communications and processing applications, a measure recommended by over half of the agents surveyed.

ICEF Agent Voice

Agencies are diversifying their offerings, with 45 percent providing new services to educators, notably in digital marketing, consulting, and organizing in-person events. They are also increasing student services, with 64 percent adding support such as immigration and visa assistance, accommodation, and insurance.

Agencies focus heavily on acquiring new customers and supporting students’ families. They predominantly generate leads through social media, word-of-mouth, and their websites.

In terms of collaborations, 65 percent of agents deal directly with educational institutions for student referrals, while others are part of networks or digital platforms. Commission rates have generally remained consistent with previous years, though there is a trend of increasing commissions in 2023, as reported by approximately 20 percent of agents.

Broadening services

Interestingly, the majority of agencies (60 percent) are not yet incorporating AI and machine learning into their recruitment processes, with some hesitation about the potential impacts of these technologies in the future. This reflects a cautious approach to adopting new methods within the traditional student recruitment landscape.

When it comes to agency operations, there is a trend of broadening services to support educators and students alike. Notable among these services are digital marketing, consulting, and event organization. Agents also highlighted the significance of quick response times and rapid application processing from institutions as pivotal in their operations.

The evolving dynamics of global education recruitment

Finally, while commission rates remain largely consistent with prior years, there’s a reported upward pressure on commissions, hinting at the competitive nature of the international education market.

ICEF Agent Voice

Overall, the ICEF Agent Voice survey reveals an industry that is cautiously embracing change, diversifying its offerings, and responding dynamically to international students’ financial and academic needs, all while navigating the evolving landscape of global education.

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