With relatively limited marketing budgets to fill international student places, high schools in New Zealand rely, to a large extent, on agents, seeing this method of recruitment as the best value-for-money route to achieving their objectives.
“The majority of our students come through agents and there seems to have been a steady increase in the number of students applying via agents over the last ten years,” says Robin Stewart, International Director at William Colenso College, Napier. The school averaged 51 overseas students per year between 2004 and 2008, with 79 per cent referred by agents. During the subsequent five years, this has increased to an average of 60 students per year with 87 per cent through agents. “It is obvious how significant a role agents play in our international programme,” he adds.
“Being a relatively small school, our marketing budget is not huge so we have to be careful to ensure we are getting best value for money spent,” Stewart says. “Consequently, as far as offshore activity is concerned, we tend to concentrate more on visiting agents and participating in agent workshops/seminars than on attending education fairs.”
The largest intake currently at William Colenso College is from Germany. “In fact, for the last four years we have had to close applications from German students as we have reached our self-imposed limit of students from any one country.” Usually there is a 50/50 split between Europe and Asia. “Currently, we are seeking to build relationships with agents in European countries apart from Germany,” says Stewart, adding South America as a future target region.
At Cashmere High School, Christchurch, 70 per cent of students come through local and offshore agents, says Tania Woodham, Director of International Students. The majority of present students are from Japan, she says, with other key markets including Korea, Germany, Brazil, Chile and China. “I am always looking for agents, especially those who are actively placing students in New Zealand and Christchurch,” says Woodham. “You may only get a few placements from individual agencies, so the more genuine agents you work with, the more enrolments you receive. My aim is to diversify more and reach a target of between seven-to-10 students from a variety of countries, rather than be heavily reliant on a particular market,” she adds.
At Henderson High School, Auckland, 65 per cent of international students come via agents, says International Students Coordinator Paula Hart, with 20 per cent directly through the website, and others from family referrals and walk-ins. “Hong Kong, Macau, China and Vietnam are the main full-year contributors at present, with Germany and Japan providing short-term enrolments,” she adds, “I am always interested in engaging new agents for Asian and European markets, particularly New Zealand specialist agents and those with an Auckland or New Zealand base.”
Shirley Boys’ High School (SBHS), Christchurch, has suffered a downturn in overseas students since the earthquakes of 2011, says Anne Holmes, Head of International Students, although short-stay groups are still coming. As a result, agents have been more understanding of the situation. “When attempting to recruit international students, we have not found education fairs to be helpful, as there has been understandably some negativity surrounding Christchurch... At the moment, we are relying mainly on Japanese agents with whom we have a rapport.” She adds, “We are working through Christchurch Educated [an organisation promoting study opportunities in the city]... and would like to find agents in China and Korea.”
In terms of building and sustaining partnerships, Woodham at Cashmere High School says, “Relationships are maintained with agents through regular communication, inbound familiarisation trips, reporting on existing students, support staff onshore and marketing trips offshore.” Holmes says that while visiting agents is beyond SBHS’s current budgetary constraints, familiarisation trips are very useful. Hart similarly espouses the importance of inviting agents over to Henderson High School. “We keep in touch with our current agents each term by email or phone, and by sending newsletters and reports. The Principal makes marketing visits overseas and welcomes agents to New Zealand on fam trips from time to time. Fam trips are helpful in that the Principal does not have to take time away from school and the agent gains first-hand insight into the ‘flavour’ of the school and the area.”
Stewart at William Colenso College says, “We do spend more time, effort and money on developing and maintaining relationships with agents than we do in attempting to recruit students directly through education fairs and the like. Within the limits of our budget, we try to visit as many of our active agents as possible on a reasonably regular basis.”
Pre-arrival advice for agents
Contributors to this feature outlined many measures that agents can take before sending students to New Zealand. Tania Woodham at Cashmere High School, which distributes a dedicated agent manual, says, “My main advice would be to give honest information to the student with regards to studying abroad, accurate advice regarding future goals and realistic time frames for achievements at secondary school.” Anne Holmes at Shirley Boys’ High School advises agents to make sure students have thoroughly perused the school’s website. “There is also an orientation booklet which is geared for students new to Christchurch and SBHS.”
Robin Stewart at William Colenso College recommends agents provide some counselling regarding limiting students’ communication in their native tongues to smooth progress in language acquisition. Paula Hart at Henderson High School values good agent orientation. “We have a strong pastoral care system which provides pre-arrival information and encourage students to get in touch with the homestay family before coming so they feel comfortable straight away.” Ielts results and school transcripts are useful to assess applications, although language is re-assessed to ensure correct placement. “The best thing agents can do is ensure they are completely familiar with what our school offers, and let the students know what is expected of them in the homestay. Also they should discuss the NCEA [National Certificate of Education Achievement] system for those intending to go on to university.”