The ICEF Agent Voice 2023 survey, which garnered 662 responses, found that 43% of agents see sourcing qualified leads as their top issue.
Some 30% ranked visa processing and support as their biggest challenge, with delays, long processing times, access to appointments, requirements and rejection rates all noted as problematic.
“With agents having to invest considerable time in helping students complete application processes, delays at the destination can have a significant impact upon their own operations,” the report noted.
A total of 57% of respondents said quick responses from institutional partners is the top valued partner support area, ahead of 24% who said speedy application processing was most highly valued.
The report noted that speed is highlighted by agents as a top priority for institutional partners.
“Delays at the destination can have a significant impact upon their own operations”
Launched in 2020, the survey has sought to identify latest trends and threats affecting the industry.
Similar to the 2022 iteration, this year’s survey suggests agents are predicting growth across all educational sectors in 2023/24. However, the ratio of agencies expecting to see increased enrolment has fallen this year.
Over 60% said that foundation, pathway and undergraduate, as well as MBA and graduate programs, will grow next year – they are less buoyant about language and K-12 and secondary courses, with 52% and 38%, respectively, expecting increases in enrolments.
Overall, appetite for international education “remains strong”, ICEF said, with the “big four” destination countries, along with the UAE, Germany and the Netherlands, expecting significant growth.
Also like last year, cost was noted as the biggest factor affecting student decision making.
ICEF said accommodation is another top factor for students, while “traditional concerns, such as an institution’s ranking, are now perceived to be far less important”.
The survey also found that employability is increasingly becoming important to students, as universities promote career opportunities “directly as a sales point and indirectly through their study programs”.
Six in 10 respondents reported placing students in new fields of study, with data science and big data, business intelligence and analytics, artificial intelligence and international business being the most popular, closely followed by medical studies and supply chain management and logistics.
“Furthermore, there appears to be a direct correlation between students’ preferred post-study work and career destinations and the countries receiving the most enquiries for international study opportunities,” the report noted.
Around half of respondents (52%) said that work and immigration opportunities are a key factor affecting student decision making.
The number of agents offering online programs has dropped from 50% in 2022 to 46% in 2023 – the first year since 2020 that there has not been a reported increase, the report added.
The survey also found that the majority of agencies (60%) “still rely on traditional and time consuming methods of recruitment”, with non-digital and word-of-mouth promotional strategies remaining “crucial”. Nearly half ranked these types of marketing channels as most important.
Almost half (49%) remain uncertain as to the impact AI may have in the future, it continued. Take up of digital methods and AI remains slow, ICEF said.
It also said that agent commission remains largely stable after a period of growth between 2019-2021.
More than 50% agents across all educational programs (with the exception of Culture, Work & Travel), reported commissions above the pre pandemic average of 10%, report said. However, “levels appear to be settling after a period of uncertainty”.