Education agents play an important role as drivers of international student recruitment. The term ‘education agent’ is used generally to describe a business that supports international students to enrol at an educational institution. But there are at six different types of education agents, each with quite different characteristics. For universities, colleges and schools who are working with education agents, understanding the differences will support the success of your education agent strategy.

In late March 2021 the British Universities’ International Liaison Association released a report: “A Partnership for Quality: A route to a UK Quality Framework with Education Agents”. Done in partnership with the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and produced by Edified, the report contains a ton of facts and insights on the role of education agents in the UK international student market.

The report included an interesting section listing and profiling the six main types of education agents working with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK.


1. The Sole Trader

20% of education agents working with UK HEIs are Sole Traders

  • Usually small family-run (Mum & Dad / Mom & Pop) businesses.
  • Do not have sophisticated systems or marketing.
  • Rely on word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Provide a highly personalised service.

Offices/Staff
  • One office.
  • Most have less than 10 staff. 50% of these agencies have just one person.
Clients
  • Often work as sub-agents to other, larger agencies (i.e. Market Specialists, Multi-Nationals, and Education Giants)
Students
  • Typically recruit less than 40 students per year.

2. The SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprise)

60% of education agents working with UK HEIs are SMEs


Offices/Staff
  • Often have more than one office, but usually only in one country (i.e. multiple cities in one country)
  • Usually have between 6-50 staff.
Clients
  • Will usually represent between 10-80 HEIs.
  • Some SMEs work as sub-agents to other, larger agencies (i.e. Market Specialists, Multi-Nationals, and Education Giants)
Students
  • Typically recruits between 20-200 students per year.

3. The Market Specialist

5% of education agents working with UK HEIs are Market Specialists


Offices/Staff
  • Usually operate in one country or region.
  • Have strong systems.
  • Typically use a fully-owned offices model, with multiple offices in different cities in a single country.
  • Most (91%) have over 50 staff.
Clients
  • Will usually represent over 80 UK HEIs.
Students
  • Recruit over 1,000 students per year.

4. The Multi-National

10% of education agents working with UK HEIs are Multi-Nationals


Offices/Staff
  • Operates in multiple countries, with multiple offices.
  • Most have over 50 staff.
  • Have a strong brand and systems.
Clients
  • Represent over 100 UK HEIs.
Students
  • Recruits over 1,000 students per year.

5. The Specialist/Innovator/Online

Education agents in the Specialist/Innovator/Online category are usually Sole Traders or SMEs. However they have unique characteristics, for example:

  • they may specialise in a particular study discipline, or type of institution
  • they may be purely an online education agent that does not have physical offices, but does have well developed digital tools and systems applied.
  • they may be embedded in an school or HEI.

Offices/Staff
  • See above for Sole Trader/SME.
Clients
  • See above for Sole Trader/SME.
Students
  • See above for Sole Trader/SME.

6. The Education Giant

There are a very small number of ‘Education Giants’ that have an education agency arm as one business line in a much larger suite of horizontal services in the international education market.


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Cover Image: Baher Khairy on Unsplash

Agent Type Graphic: Based on “A Partnership for Quality” Report”

Source: “A Partnership for Quality” Report”