Nafsa 2014: USA thinking about agent partnerships

06 June, 2014

A number of US institutions that previously shunned international student recruitment agents are starting to change their minds, Study Travel Magazine learnt at this year’s Nafsa: Association of International Educators Conference in San Diego, USA.

Following on from the National Association of College Admissions Counselling’s (NACAC) approval last September of commission-based recruiting, one educator, who preferred to remain nameless, told us, “The approval has swayed some universities and colleges that were on the fence about whether or not agent partnerships are ethical. But I don’t think this has kick-started a spurt in partnerships – we along with others are taking a cautious approach.

This was reflected in the event programming, with a number of sessions themed on best practices in working with agencies. In one session, UK-based Christopher Price from Adventus Education said that an effective partnership should involve a contract outlining the responsibilities of both the agent and the educator along with a get-out clause. “Tell students you work with us!” He added. “One of my bugbears is universities failing to tell students that they work with agents. You should treat agents as partners or at least as a member of your team.

In another session on how the USA can learn from the UK in terms of agent practices, Dominic Milne from the UK’s University of Aberdeen – where 37 per cent of international students came through agents in September 2013 – highlighted that agents can help refine admissions criteria for different markets, alongside increasing institutional income. “Thai agents are actually more valuable than BBC news when it comes to giving up-to-date information of the military coup,” he added, explaining that Thailand is one of the university’s top five sender markets. In the same session, Paul Hoffman from the California State University – Fresno said that agents helped increase the international student population from 550 in 2012 to 1,600 in 2013.

Other sessions covered issues including visas for students entering the USA, including one chaired by representatives from the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) for Intensive English Programs (IEPs). Ken Krall highlighted that the top concern among English USA  (professional association) members is draft guidance regarding conditional admissions/bridge programmes. Affecting the university/college sector, under this guidance it is unclear whether English language departments need to issue certificates of eligibility (I-20s) for international students enrolling on bridge programmes to obtain a visa or not.

The conference itself, Pathways to Global Competence, welcomed a record-breaking 10,000 delegates, including 3,000 first-timers and 3,500 from outside the USA. Fanta Aw, Nafsa President, encouraged attendees to sign a petition urging Congress to “bring common sense immigration reform to the vote” in the opening plenary, which has so far received more than 2,000 signatures. Plenary speakers included Albie Sachs, part of the anti-apartheid movement, while evening receptions held by organisations including a2 International Education Fairs in Turkey allowed for informal networking opportunities.

Next year’s event will be held in Boston, USA, May 24-29.  

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