Education agents will be greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is too soon to truly know the true numbers of students who still plan to study abroad in 2021. The German Academic Exchange Service has put together a huge collection of studies to try and make sense of results and analysis from contributors around the world, but the findings vary.
Anything up to half of the students surveyed are considering postponing their studies until things stabilize, though the average figure seems to hover more realistically around 20%. Higher Education was projected to grow 4% this year but has instead witnessed a very challenging reversal of fortunes. The language course market is similarly unstable with only two-thirds of the market expected to bounce back by the end of 2021. Much has been made of the impact on institutions themselves, but what about the Education Agents? Can the smaller agencies survive this?
Here are 3 takeaways that might just be decisive:
The first question is which market the agent is most focused on. Many agencies focus heavily on the language market; sending students abroad to study intensive or extensive foreign language courses. This market was already yielding sluggish growth in 2019 globally, but even countries such as the U.K, whose foreign language market grew at 1% in 2019, reported a loss of half a billion pounds in 2020 so far. In the USA, another key destination for the study abroad language student, Slator estimates a decline of 8% in the market so far in 2020. Both reports predict a bounce back in 2021, but by then it may be too late for some of the smaller agencies.
The study abroad language course is really about immersion in the local culture, and so this just doesn’t translate well to online study, so it’s no surprise that students are postponing their courses. However, those that do choose to study may well do so at home. Even in major markets for study-abroad language students, such as Latin America, ICEF research indicates a recovery of only 71% by the end of 2021. The GAES review cited above has shown a greater tendency of students to adapt and move their studies online in a way that they would be less likely to do for a language course.
As more and more Language School chains such as International House and The British Council enter the domestic markets of countries across the world, an opportunity has arisen. By rethinking the perception of these schools as “competitors” for the students who might otherwise go abroad, agencies on the ground can use their local know-how to recruit for these schools instead.
Takeaway 1 - Diversify your partnerships. Language courses are a shrinking market. Partnering with large domestic language schools will help protect against a more volatile international market; especially schools that offer an “immersion” study option.
The Higher Education market, however, has shown itself to be more resilient. The GAES review cited above has shown a greater tendency of students to adapt and move their studies online in a way that they would be less likely to do for a language course. Agents who have significant revenue streams from this sector may well hold on to more of that business, but there is still a risk, as universities pay commissions on the degree and master programs much later than language course providers (and often in staged payments), so this break in cash flow at a critical moment might just be the tipping point for a small agency.
But universities and colleges are diversifying their products. Summer schools, short professional courses, online courses, and even language courses are all on offer, and that presents an opportunity for counselors in education agencies to find a good fit for the prospective student. We are now in a climate where people do not want to commit to long-term study, but may be willing to attend shorter courses to upskill or retool to meet new challenges.
Takeaway 2: Diversify the study options you offer. Things are changing fast and institutions are responding rapidly. Staying on top of these new opportunities, and learning in detail what they might offer to students, will help you move alongside the market itself and stay afloat. Shorter courses also mean quicker commission turnaround, which might just be the solution to cash flow shortfall in 2020. Counselling students with such diverse options might be daunting, but geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) can help education agents with some simple inbound marketing techniques.
It may sound far fetched, but the reality is that a great many education agencies worldwide are still working largely with paper. Filing cabinets full of forms and desks replete with in-trays, out-trays, envelopes, and pencils. When the office space is forced to close, there is tremendous pressure on that team to continue working from home, when they are simply not set up for it. This is a time when the way a team works is placed under the microscope, and so it can also be a time to learn and improve.
Agencies that had already been working more digitally as a team, will have seen a much more fluid adaptation to the pandemic. Productivity will always suffer from such significant upheaval, but if the right tools are in place, the business can continue in much the same way as before.
But it is not only internally that digitalization pays dividends. Paper course brochures can be digital, posters can be paid ads on social media, newspaper adverts can be viral videos. Even the face to face meeting with the counsellor, during which options are discussed in detail, can be moved online. For Generation Z, this is completely normal and acceptable; it may even be preferable. Of course, the face to face meeting can always be on offer when it’s safe to do so, but bringing digital processes in will help you reach new audiences, work more efficiently,
Takeaway 3: Don’t wait any longer to go digital. Inside the office, collaborative documents, project management tools, and digital CRM systems are a must nowadays. Externally, connecting with audiences through digital media will increase your reach and future proof your processes. After time for training and adaptation, this can make your agency so much more efficient and resilient.
Regrettably, some agencies will simply not survive the challenges of 2020, but for those who are ready to adapt and move from survive to thrive, geNEOus (formerly NEO Academy) is here to help you. We can support you in diversifying your recruitment channels, identifying and reaching new opportunities, implementing a tailor-made CRM to automate all of your processes, etc. We understand the world of education agents, and we are here to help with dedicated training and bespoke solutions to find the fit that works best for you. For an informal discussion on what we can do to support you and your agency, reach out today.