When it comes to international recruitment, agents can be a huge asset. But, as with any partnership, the key – and challenge – is finding the right people to work with and developing a relationship that drives the most value. I sat down with UQ Project Manager Giuliana Bonvini to get her advice for effectively working with agents based on her years of experience as an agent before joining UniQuest.
Mary: Tell me a bit about your experience as an agent.
Giuliana: I started in 2008 within the biggest education agency in Brazil. I primarily worked with institutions in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Malta, and Australia — so your big English speaking destinations, although I also had great partnerships with institutions in a few non-English speaking countries, mainly in Europe. I later went on to open my own agency, which I managed for four years. I then moved from Brazil to Ireland, where I switched gears a bit expanding my network by recruiting agents and looking for agent partnerships as an education provider — I participated in A LOT of agent workshops. So, I’ve had a lot of experience in the agent world.
Mary: There’s always some risk in choosing agents to work with. How can colleges confidently scope out if an agent is legitimate and likely to be good to work with?
Giuliana: This is actually quite easy! There are 3 key ways to vet an agent:
- See that they’re registered with their government
To be an official agent, you must register with your government body that deals with regulating agents that send people abroad. Agents operating anywhere in the world will have a registration number identifying that they’re registered with their government. For me in Brazil, I was registered with Embratur – the Brazilian Tourist Board. Brazil also had an association called Belta, which was specific to education agents. Unlike Embratur, Belta wasn’t mandatory and requires a membership fee, so you find in Brazil that often the newer, smaller agencies are registered only with Embratur and ultimately with the tax authorities.
- Ask for references from AIRC, NAFSA, and ICEF
ICEF has a massive database of international education agents (20,000+), who go through a strict vetting process with ICEF. If your agents are certified by ICEF, that’s usually a good indication that they’re quality agents. AIRC is another organization to check with. If you work with an AIRC certified agency, you know you’re working with people who are recognized by US institutions and state agencies. These organizations and NAFSA can also offer education providers resources or further information about a particular agent.
- Get references from other colleges
As an agent, when I was in conversation with potential new university clients, I would often be sent a reference form that required me to submit three references from education providers that I was currently working with. Once agents share back these forms, the potential client can contact the references to ask for more information about the respective agent – e.g. reputation, number of students enrolled in the past, honesty, punctuality with payments, etc.
Mary: Are there any typical pitfalls you see from colleges working with agents?
Giuliana: One thing I ran into a lot when I worked with US colleges was information overload. It’s fantastic that US colleges have so much to offer, and thus a lot of material. But, information needs to be simplified and targeted for the agents and the students they support. To avoid having important information buried within huge brochures, colleges should have organized, step-by-step guides to areas like entry requirements, scholarship opportunities, deadlines, etc.
Mary: What can colleges do to drive the most benefit from their agent relationships?
Giuliana: Active and clear communication is crucial. The more your agents know about you, the better they can appeal to students who are the right fit for you. A few things you can do:
- Set up training sessions early in the relationship to properly introduce your institution. Who are your ideal students, what are your goals and expectations, what makes your institution so special? And the tactical details like your admissions processes, deadlines, fees, etc.
- Provide simple and country-specific materials for the agent to share with their students. Information that is easy for students from all targeted countries to digest.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Reply quickly to agent questions so they can get the required information to your prospective students faster.
- Invite your agents to campus. This is an investment, but it’s worth it. A campus visit will give your agents a more genuine understanding of your institution and enable them to paint a clearer picture for your prospective students. My best partners were those whose campuses I had visited.
Mary: Any final advice?
Giuliana: Agent workshops can be a great way to find quality agents – ICEF hosts a number of them around the world. During these workshops you get one-on-one time to chat with agents, so you can get a feel for who you’d work well with. Just be sure to come prepared with questions to gather what you need to know from agents, and what your budget is. Agent commissions tend to be negotiable, so you’ll want to have some idea of what you’re willing to pay.
In-country visits are also a good option as you can visit the agents in their own office and spend as much time as necessary to introduce your institution to them and answer any questions they might have.
Cold calling/emailing also seems to work depending on what you have to offer and on your sales skills. For example, I started a partnership with a school in Malta when they sent me an email with a special promotion. They found me on ALPHE Agents database and simply emailed me.