Despite different degrees of travel restrictions for top destination nations, foreign agents remain extremely involved in their positions during the pandemic, according to a recent ICEF Agent Voice survey of over 1200 agents from 108 countries. The majority of their students are being directed to Canada and the United Kingdom, but interest for the United States continues to be increasing as well. The sample, which has been available since January 2021, was mostly filled out by agents who served students from Asia (44%), Africa (13%), and Latin America (13%).
Hours are long when there is so much uncertainty
Agents expect to announce cancellations and significant numbers of deferrals to fall 2021 as a result of the pandemic. Nearly four out of ten (39%) said their students had changed their minds on where they wanted to go. The role of agents has increased as students’ decision-making processes have become more complex and time-consuming.
“Many responses suggested a wait and see scenario for study abroad plans, with students looking to other destinations that become accessible first or just continuing their studies online at home before travel options become available,” says Tiffany Egler, ICEF’s director of agent relations. The decision-making period has been even longer as many boundaries remain closed and laws continue to change.
Border closures (77%) and visa processing delays or suspensions, according to agents, are the most significant barriers for students (69% ). More than four out of ten students said they are having problems with their online classes (e.g., time gaps, online exhaustion, and unreliable Internet connections), as well as financial difficulties.
Recruiting for hybrid programmes has become prevalent
Looking forward a year, agents predict that mixed (50%) and exclusively online (33%) alternatives will be the new standard in 2021. When questioned what types of programmes they are currently offering to students, however, online classes were listed by less than 10% of respondents. In general, active recruitment is strong, particularly for pathway/undergraduate programmes, where only 14% of agents state they are not currently recruiting.
Surging hotspots are Canada and the UK
When it comes to language classes, pathway/undergraduate programmes, and, to a lesser degree, graduate studies, Canada and the United Kingdom are the most frequently mentioned destinations by officers. Australia is normally a compelling destination for agents and students, but due to its closed borders, there is a much lower degree of recruitment for this country than normal.
The majority of respondents (61%) expect that foreign student enrolments will be lower in 2021 than in 2019, but they also believe that student demand will remain strong. Agents’ standards for enrolments may change in the coming months if travel constraints are eased significantly and vaccination rollouts are accelerated. Furthermore, high-quality hybrid and online options may entice a broader range of students to pursue a degree at a foreign institution.
Overall, agents are hopeful about their market recovering in late 2021 (24 percent) or early 2022 (53 percent), which is a result of the high demand for study abroad by students in the near future.