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Why agent incentives won't off-set a decline in Chinese enrolments and what will

A new way to identify opportunities to improve the performance of your agents.

While Chinese students are the largest international student cohort in Australia, concern is starting to grow that their numbers might have peaked.

Recent numbers from the Department of Home Affairs, shows student visas granted to Chinese students starting to decline year on year.

Australia's property industry learnt the hard way, that relying on the ever growing Chinese market without establishing a plan B risks a financial disaster in the short term.

Given the importance of international student revenue to most higher education institutions financial health, an over-reliance on Chinese students is a risk that needs to be quickly addressed.

But how do you develop an action plan to accelerate your recruitment success in other markets? It's not like your international team haven't been trying to recruit a more diverse student cohort.

The most common solution is to invest in additional incentives for agents. Incentives work by "buying" agent's recommendation to gain an increase in applications, while reducing your margin and student revenue. But like any incentive it only works while you pay the extra, and in the competitive higher education market place, incentives encourage other institutions to offer their own incentive to regain their lost students from the agents creating a bidding war. Ultimately everyone ends up paying more for the same amount of students, but more importantly it creates a massive year 2 growth issue. Do you pay even more money to grow further in year 2 (further eroding your margins) or risk the decline in student numbers from a withdrawal of the incentive?

Agent incentives can buy some students in the short term, but create a significant barrier to growth the following year.

International advertising campaigns are often the next investment an institution makes, but there are two common issues with this approach. Too often advertising campaigns fail to recognise the cultural differences between local students in different countries and become just one of the 5,000 advertising messages a day they ignore. Secondly with over 80% of international students using an agent to help with their application, even if the advertising leads a student to enquire about your institution, if the agent they visit recommends one of your competitors, the investment in the campaign was wasted.

Repeating the same activity year on year and hoping for a different result isn't going to work.

New insights into what to do to grow student recruitment acquisition and conversion are required to develop a new action plan.

MacMORGAN has leveraged cross-category learnings to develop off-shore agent mystery shopping research to measure the important contribution agent’s make to an institution’s recommendation and global brand reputation.

By understanding what your agents say about you and your competitors during a counselling session to prospective students we are able to understand WHY the agents are delivering the results they achieve for the institution and more importantly what would be the few changes that would make the big difference to your results.

Agent mystery shopping can help you understand;

  • Which of your agents are recommending you and which aren't?

  • Why are some of your agents not recommending your institution?

  • Which other institution are your agents recommending ahead of you and why?

  • Is your student value proposition clear?

  • Is your application process competitive?

  • Are perceptions of your location (city) holding you back?

  • Is your website providing agents and prospective students with the right information?

  • Is your pricing competitive?

Evidencing key issues and opportunities by market provides a strong justification for a country specific action plan to address the issues and opportunities identified in the research. Enabling you to answer the questions, "what do we need to do to off-set the decline in Chinese students".

To find out more about our unique agent mystery shopping research approach please contact me.

John Chatterton

+61432 906 790



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