Anna Harrison, Education Agent Reviews: US Universities Are Investing More On Agents Network Building
As internationalisation of higher education is growing fast in many parts of the world, student recruitment becomes an increasingly competitive field. In their endeavour to earn students’ trust and attention, many universities refer to agents, especially when targeting emerging or less-explored markets. US universities in particular, however, are comparatively new to this practice. Agency use was not so common until recently, and institutions are still catching up to establishing best practices and learning how to make the best out of cooperation with agents.
In this context, an innovative platform has emerged that enables US higher education institutions to use collaboration and information sharing to build reliable agent networks. Education Agent Reviews allows US universities that use agents for overseas recruitment or participate in fairs and tours, to browse listings and reviews by fellow institutions in order to find the best partner.
To learn more about the project and why transparency and knowledge sharing make the foundation of genuine quality in networking for international student recruitment, Renata Lorusso, Marketing Director at ETN Focus Workshops talks to Anna Harrison, Founder of Education Agent Reviews.
Read the full interview with Anna Harrison below:
Renata Lorusso, ETN Focus: You have a long experience in international student recruitment, admissions and university administration. What would be the main challenges of your work?
Anna Harrison, Education Agent Reviews: International student recruitment is a fascinating field because it’s constantly evolving. In these past few years alone, we’re witnessing a transition in traditional international student recruitment. The NACAC rulings that permitted US institutions to use agents or the rise in social media and how students communicate – these are examples of recent changes in the field.
We’ve also seen a wide variety of international students’ home countries. Everyone talks about China now, but thirty years ago Iran was one of the biggest senders of international students to the USA. Therefore, one of the main challenges would be to remain adaptable and make sure that you are aware of innovations and new opportunities in the field.
Another challenge is to be self-aware and self-critical. Know your institution well and know what type of students would be happy at your institution in order to make sure you are making the correct strategy decisions. And a third challenge would be time management, which I think many university administrators would agree with! Most of us have so many responsibilities that we can’t define in a single job title. It can be very challenging to feel like you can’t spend 100% of your time on any one task.
ETN: Being an Assistant Director of International Admissions at a tier one American university, relationship building with agents is for sure an important part of your job. How do you support the agents you work with? What is in your opinion the golden rule for a successful Agent/University collaboration?
Anna: I think that relationships between institutions and agents are always evolving. What worked a few years ago may not be working this year. For instance, one year I spent a lot of time in designing email newsletters for our agent partners. After one year I did a survey to see who was reading them. The results made me switch to a shorter, less frequent style of communication in order to please the agents better. This year we are switching back to email newsletters again. So, universities have to be prepared to realize that communication styles can change. You should always be willing to take feedback and to adapt to your audience. I think approaching the relationship with an open mind and with humility to learn about how another culture runs its businesses is very important.
ETN: You recently launched a very promising project. What brought you to Education Agent Reviews?
Anna: I was at a conference about developing university-agent relationships when the director of a small international office voiced her frustration at how hard it was to really know whether a potential partner was a good fit for her or not. She expressed that she had invested a lot of money in attending this event, and still wasn’t sure how to find good partnerships for her particular institution.
At that moment, I thought, “Why can’t there be a central website that we can visit and interact with international student recruitment partners and read comments and decide for ourselves who would be a good fit for our strategy?”
I spent the next year learning how to implement this idea and collecting feedback from others to see if it was a viable idea. I just launched the website a few months ago. It’s been exciting to see its growth and to hear positive feedback and suggestions from others.
US Universities are investing more on agents network building in the last years. Education Agent Reviews is for sure a valuable tool that can facilitate experience sharing, best practice learning and skills transfer among the platform members.
ETN: International student recruitment can however sometime be a competitive challenge, is the US University environment a cooperative one? In which ways does Education Agent Reviews contributes in creating a community of practice among US Universities?
Anna: I can’t speak for all American universities, but my project is geared towards the international offices who do want to be collaborative. It’s true that it can be a a competitive field, but you can also see from the many national and regional conferences that universities are willing to share their best practices with each other. Most administrators do want to exchange stories or to share their observations about the international student recruitment market. My platform takes that collaborative attitude and transforms it into a digital resource.
ETN: Education Agent Reviews allows modern technologies to support the relationship between agents and Universities. What new digital products, trends and developments do you think will shape the relationship between agents and educators in the years to come?
Anna: I think we will see a reliance on automating the institution-agent relationship and on streamlining communication. I don’t mean that personal relationships won’t be important. But for now, most American universities don’t have an employment position that just focuses on the agent market. This means that university administrators’ time is very limited, even if they have the sincere desire to have a good relationship. This can make it very difficult for universities who are trying to expand their international student recruitment.
So we will see innovations in the field that focus on an agent portal on your website, for instance, or an automated way to send out updates to agents. Much like universities have CRMs for students, we will see a rise in attempts to create a good agent CRM. The other trend I predict is that we will see a change to the traditional definition of being an agent. With continued innovations in technology, new entrepreneurs will probably mix the artificial intelligence, lead generator, and agent model to create new international student digital recruitment products.
ETN: Education Agent Reviews is a project you launched as your personal initiative to bring additional value to the complex higher education product market. You immediately get to feel the genuine aim and the passion that animates it. Where do you find your motivation in life? In and beyond your professional dimension?
Anna: I have always been a curious person and a problem-solver. To say “I don’t know how to do something” has never been a barrier for me. I just learn how to do it or I ask others for their help in learning. I’ve had a lot of different experiences in life, from running conflict resolution programs in inner-city schools to directing women’s empowerment projects in West Africa. Although these were all very challenging, they made me have a creative attitude to problem-solving and to not be afraid to propose new ideas. These projects also all had the common solution of needing to work with different types of partners and to unite diverse colleagues with a common cause.
I love to be motivated by others’ excellence, and I really enjoy being part of a motivated team and celebrating my colleagues’ successes. I try to surround myself with people who motivate me, who are also curious, and who don’t settle for the status quo.
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All images courtesy of Education Agents Reviews.