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Why Universities Need In-Country Representation

The onset of the pandemic has generally changed the way people do things. What used to be fairly straightforward–like going out with friends, eating in restaurants, buying things at a grocery store, going to work, and even going to school–have become chores that require tight safety precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing.


While all sectors of the economy were affected by the ongoing health crisis, one of the most disrupted sectors is international education. With classes largely being held online, international students must settle for remote learning just to ensure the continuity of their education. 


For universities and colleges, the effects were mainly in operational changes and student enrollment which plummeted for many as a result of mobility restrictions and border closures. 


While technology has made adjusting to the health crisis a bit easier, there are still things that need to be done in the real world. Student recruitment, for one thing, had to be done remotely for the most part because of the pandemic. However, the problem with doing student recruitment online is that most of the remote interactions between institutions and prospective students do not usually convert into actual enrollment. 


Moreover, universities and colleges often do not have the internal manpower and the resources to sufficiently manage international student recruitment. The solution? In-country representation.


In this article, I will discuss some advantages of having in-country representation and how it can help institutions reach their target markets and gain actual enrollees.

Key Takeaways:

  • In-country representation for universities does not necessitate a huge recruitment budget
  • It brings Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) closer to their target student markets, removes language barriers, and makes recruitment faster and more personal
  • Now is the time for HEIs to get connected with education agents as more students now rely on agent recommendation
  • Having an in-country office is more than just recruitment. Value-added services include application pre-screening, study visa assistance, and pre-departure briefings for students

Oftentimes, when universities come across the concept of having an in-country office overseas, they get discouraged by the thought that this may be an expensive undertaking and their marketing budget will not be sufficient to pursue such an endeavor.


In reality, this does not necessitate the institution to set up its own offices and send its staff overseas to get in-country representation. The key here is to forge a partnership with student recruitment providers with global offices and a large agent base.


Here are some of the most significant benefits of getting in-representation for universities.

1. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) get closer to students

What in-country representation means for HEIs is that they get to establish a local presence in their target markets. Through a partnership with an international education services provider, they get an actual overseas team to represent them and introduce their programs to students in a certain locality. This “local presence” allows fast and personal recruitment to happen without the need for the university staff to travel far and do the recruitment themselves. 

Source: 2021 QS International Student Survey

The new QS International Student Survey indicates that international students are relying more than ever on agents in their decision-making, particularly on study-abroad plans. In the report, it is noted that students are increasingly influenced by agents’ recommendations, and universities that know how to integrate agents into their international marketing plans stand to gain an important edge in their target markets. 


When comparing the reasons students accepted their offer of enrolment for Semester 1 of 2020 to Semester 1 of 2021, the survey found that agent recommendation influenced over 7.8% of the respondents. With less access to other traditional sources of student recruitment such as education fairs, prospective students see their local agents as a reliable way to make connections with universities.

2. Language barrier is eliminated

Agents who represent HEIs in the target student markets are mostly locals who can communicate in the students’ native language. With this, explaining the details of specific programs, including program coverage and requirements, is easier and prospective learners can comprehend them much better. There’s no need for the students to research and translate the information they need for their study-abroad plans. 


This setup is convenient for students as they find it easier to discuss their study plans with people who not only provide accurate information but also understand them well. 

This is why, based on the same study (2021 QS International Student Survey), many students find the spoken language of their agents as an important factor when communicating with their chosen universities.

3. More personalized service often gets results

A lot of recruitment efforts done online do not progress due to communication gaps. Sometimes students simply lose interest in a particular school whenever they don’t get a response from the institution. 


Some students need a bit of handholding when it comes to the admission process, especially when they have no clue at all how the whole thing proceeds. Having agents who can physically be in the same area as the students is an advantage as they can visit the students personally and better address their application or enrollment concerns.


With this more personal approach, students feel that their concerns are being addressed appropriately. As such, the chances of losing students’ interest throughout the recruitment process are lower than when recruitment is done purely online.

4. Other obstacles are eradicated



Again, by partnering with student recruitment providers with global presence, HEIs get a team on the ground in their target territories without the need to shell out a huge budget for this endeavor. There’s no need for universities to find and rent a location or even hire extra employees for the target locations. Some partnerships even follow performance-based models which means they do not charge universities upfront; they will only ask for payment once they have successfully recruited students.


Application Screening


In the case of MSM, in-country offices come in a package with well-vetted agents who are experts in assessing the accuracy and completeness of requirements submitted by students during application. In this setup, only qualified students can advance to the next stage of application.


Assistance in obtaining a study visa and completing travel documents


Oftentimes, issues on study visas or travel requirements disrupt the enrollment process. This is particularly true in this pandemic in which mobility concerns and border lockdown issues are prevalent. 


Failure to obtain the necessary documents may lead to enrollment deferrals. When agents are nearer to the students, these problems can be immediately addressed since they are there to guide and help students in completing their documents.

The Bottomline

In-country offices can make recruitment more personal and more effective. Even with a plethora of communication technologies available, in-person communication continues to be the most effective way of engaging students. Although digital platforms are crucial in the overall marketing process, face-to-face communication still does wonders when it comes to recruitment.


The best thing about having in-country representation is that it does not need huge marketing and recruitment budgets. This approach actually allows HEIs to save a huge deal because when they invest in proven-effective recruitment strategies, they get direct results without wasting resources in trial-and-error strategies. 


As more universities and colleges compete for the attention of students online, it is a good idea to take other routes that can let your institution successfully hit your recruitment targets. In-country representation will allow your university to connect directly with your target markets minus all the headaches that only result in ambiguous recruitment outcomes. (MAY ARTHUR)

#PartnerForLife #HigherEducation #StudentRecruitment #InternationalEducation #MSM

MSM GMO US Vice President May Arthur


Vice President, Global Marketing Office-US(GMO)

May is a seasoned international education business executive with over 27 years of experience. She has held several leadership roles dedicated to growing and retaining the international student population at partner universities. 


Her broad areas of expertise include business development, organizational leadership, strategic planning, and global operations. She excels at developing and supporting partnerships with universities and managing global recruitment initiatives.


She has also been an active member of several renowned industry organizations including NAFSA: Association of International Educators, English USA, American International Recruitment Council (AIRC), and the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA).



How to Navigate the Challenge of Agent Management in 2021 / QS International Student Survey 2021. (n.d.) Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/how-to-navigate-the-challenges-of-agent-management-in-2021/


New expectations for higher education amid crisis / US International Student Survey 2021. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2021, from https://www.qs.com/portfolio-items/international-student-survey-2021-us-edition/


Students relying more on education agents for assistance with study abroad decisions. ICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment. (2021, March 25). https://monitor.icef.com/2020/11/students-relying-more-on-education-agents-for-assistance-with-study-abroad-decisions/


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