By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

So here we are in 2014! Happy New Year to you all. I trust you had the chance to recharge the batteries over the holiday period, ready for another busy year in the study abroad industry.

Over the break, a thought-provoking report landed on my desk. Britain’s Higher Education Empire is a study by Google UK and OC&C Strategy Consultants, an attempt to incorporate Google’s search data into the internationalisation sphere and assess the UK’s opportunities in coming years.

The results – that the UK is one of the most searched countries and that constituted the largest share of search volume – were fairly predictable. However, the report raised more questions than answers.

For example, the volume of searches for the UK’s Top 50 institutions were shown to have increased in Africa and South America by 10 per cent and 19 per cent respectively over the last two years. But does this represent greater interest in the UK, or merely greater penetration of digital technology in those areas?

And the fact that somebody searches for a UK university in Botswana or Bolivia is not evidence of an interest in study abroad. This could be a search for academic research papers, study for a MOOC or any manner of purpose.

What was entirely absent from the report was the role of study abroad agents. Once it was feared that the internet could sweep away the agency industry by creating a direct platform between institution and student, regardless of distance. Yet the opposite was arguably true; the internet created such an overwhelming, unnavigable wealth of information that the agent’s role in steering students through this became ever more vital.

In our ‘View from the desk of…’ column this week, regular contributor Susan Hayes, aka The Positive Economist, provides an excerpt from her latest book, a passage inspired by her attendance at the Eaquals conference last year and engagement with the language school industry. The findings regarding identifying target markets are equally applicable to agents.

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