The changing role of an education agent

 In News

What is the role of a UK university agent?

In late 2022, I moved from being UK university staff to start up my own small agency. People never tire of saying that I’ve moved to the ‘Dark Side’ and somehow I never tire of that joke either. But the process of building my agency has taught me a lot and my perspectives have definitely shifted. The role of an agent is certainly changing too.

We might have previously described agents as in-country advisors that provide information and application support to future students on a local basis. But if that description ever worked, it certainly doesn’t seem as clear-cut anymore.

Available everywhere

Describing an agent as a university’s ‘local partner’ can really help simplify matters. Thousands of miles from their partner university campuses, agents can provide in-person and culturally nuanced guidance on the ground. But these days, when most major UK universities have in-country staff of their own in key markets, that rationale is less of a reason on its own for agents to exist.

“Many agencies, like my own, are primarily providing support to students digitally”

Furthermore, many agencies, like my own, are primarily providing support to students digitally.

Whilst in-country, in-person support might be preferred by some students, digital service can prioritise faster responses during evenings and weekends, without necessarily having a physical space to meet during office hours. And not every student feels it is crucial to have an agent of the same nationality. After all, isn’t engaging outside your bubble what international education is all about?

Agents or AI?

The idea that agents are best placed to provide a fountain of knowledge for their students might also be challenged. Technology and increasingly AI provides ever-more advanced tools to help students figure out their best-fit university choices from vast, live data. Will a traditional agent really be able to compete?

Even in terms of the application processes, there have been significant developments and will surely see more advancements in future. More automation, self-service and streamlining, may mean there is much less manual work that agents can offer to do in terms of preparing and submitting applications on behalf of their students.

So, where does this leave us? If agents are no longer essential as local partners to universities and their job as an information-source or admin support to their students is under threat, then what on earth is their value?

The human agent

I believe that an agent’s core function, now more than ever, is to be a human helping hand.

Even as digital tools develop, the role of an agent is to compliment information with wisdom and provide empathy and encouragement through the whole journey. Study overseas is a huge investment in every sense.

Just as we might want to speak to a human car-mechanic, doctor or financial advisor, international students deserve the option to get help from a qualified and independent person to successfully navigate the whole journey of preparation for study overseas. Whether from the other side of a desk, or the other side of the world, it is the human empathy, relationship and trust that is key.

As the information, administration and physical location offered by an agent is of decreasing relative value, the human aspects an agent can offer, such as experience, wisdom, empathy and ethics become more important.

For many of us in this sector, including myself, it’s lucky that this human side of what we do is actually the part that gives us the most satisfaction, enjoyment and motivation to do a good job!

About the author: Mark Bentley is based in Norwich in the UK. He is the founder of BENTLEY Global Study Consultancy, which gives agency support to future UK international students and offers consultancy to HE providers and recruiters. Mark has over fourteen years experience in the international student sector.

The post The changing role of an education agent appeared first on The PIE News.

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