Consider agents as a force for good, paper says

Rethinking relationships with international recruiters could help universities to assuage academics’ fears, researchers suggest

May 14, 2015

UK universities should rethink relationships with international student recruitment agents to “bridge the gap” between the concerns of academics and international offices, a study says.

A paper produced for the Society for Research into Higher Education by two University of East Anglia academics says that managers evaluate agents “largely in relation to recruitment targets”. This, say Anna Robinson-Pant and Anna Magyar, has the potential to “marginalize the role of academics”, whose concerns centre on admission standards and internationalising the curriculum.

In focusing largely on recruitment and marketing issues, the debate on agents has “contributed to a growing gap between the concerns of academic staff and those colleagues working in university international offices”, according to the article.

In interviews, however, the pair found that agents emphasised their counselling role. Most provided “the whole range of services to students”, including helping to choose a university, complete the application and craft or translate a personal statement. Several agents said that applicants “expect the agent to do everything” and are “too much dependent on us”.

Professor Robinson-Pant and Dr Magyar say that more research is needed into how students’ relationships with agents are changing in a more commercial environment.

As international offices are not involved after offers are converted into places, most staff in these departments know little about what happens after students arrive on courses.

But if applicants are so reliant on agents, the pair write, this “might later influence the student’s experience and expectations of staff-student relationships in the UK university”.

Considering how agents shape student expectations may help to “bridge the gap” with academics, Professor Robinson-Pant and Dr Magyar say. “Research into agents’ roles in mediating communication…and student expectations could help to facilitate closer interaction between international office staff and academics working with…students recruited in this way,” the pair conclude.

Professor Robinson-Pant gave a presentation on her research at a SRHE seminar on 29 April.

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