View from the US: 2016 AIRC Conference review

We attended the AIRC conference in Miami in December.

AIRC accredits education agents so US institutions new to international recruitment can be more confident they are working with a quality partner. There are now 78 AIRC accredited agents.

Here are our main ‘take aways’ from the conference this year:

1. Trump trumps all

No one knows for certain what the impact of the president-elect will be on US international education. At this stage there have been no specific statements of policy but given Trump is a business person there was a feeling he is unlikely to do anything that would limit international education. The biggest and most immediate impact will come from the perception that the US is not a safe destination for international students. Some claimed this could have a similar effect on student numbers as 9/11 where the number of international students decreased by 4-5%. Hobsons reported drops of 40% in enquiries to UK institutions post Brexit and many felt there would be the same for the US. Canadian institutions were reporting increased enquiries and applications in the month of November and early December.

Some US institutions have began a campaign to counter this under the banner #youarewelcomehere. Search for it on twitter and view the videos by institutions like Temple Uni.

The US can also promote the recent change to their OPT (optional practical training) program that allows a graduate to work an additional 24 months in their field of study on top of the standard 12 months if they study a STEM program.

Agents we spoke to, particularly those from India, didn’t think the election statements around immigration would have an adverse effect on interest from their students. Of more concern for them was the alarming increase in the rejection rate for visas for applicants from Hyderabad without any clear explanation or consistency. This had begun to occur before Trump was elected and is more an indication of the tension between the US Department of Commerce, which encourages international students, and the Department of State which acts as the gate keeper on access to the US.

2. Momentum to use agents is building

This was our fourth AIRC and there was definitely a greater interest in how to use education agents effectively as part of a recruitment strategy. There were 362 participants which was a 30% increase over 2015.

Many of the sessions were still focussed on why institutions should use agents and how. The PIE wrote a good summary of the conference.

3. Response time is critical

A number of sessions reported surveys that showed the importance of clear communication with applicants and agents, transparency on the progress of an application and the speed admissions can get an offer back to an applicant. All will have significant impact on conversion rates.

4. New Horizon Scandal

This story broke towards the end of the conference so there wasn’t much discussion about it. However, it’s important to note that accreditation doesn’t stop abuse but it can move markets, as the New Horizon share price fell 24% after Reuters reported AIRC would be reviewing the agency.

There are still a number of organisations in the US who view agents with suspicion and this will only provide them with more evidence to question why US institutions should be using education agents.

5. Alligators like Cheetos

With a bit of time to kill before flying out on Sunday we decided to tour the Everglades on a fan boat and discovered that alligators loooove Cheetos.

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