An interview with an overseas recruitment agent

by jguiver on 29/02/2012

Using recruitment agents in target international student markets is a key component of many institutions’ international recruitment strategies.  I’ve worked with agents in countries across the globe, and I’ve had a mostly positive experience with them.

For this post I have interviewed a recruitment agent who I’ve worked with for nearly six years.  I wanted to find out his story, how he got into the business and where he sees it going.  Kjetil Sandvoll works at SONOR (Study Outside Norway), helping Norwegian students find their ideal study destination.

1.    How long have you been working as a recruitment agent and how did you get started in this business?

During my last year of my two year MA here in Norway I worked part time for a company that arranges student recruitment fairs here in Norway. For them I was in charge of creating international contacts in order to get schools from around the world to attend these fairs with the opportunity to recruit high quality Norwegian students. During several of my talks with international officers and international admission personnel throughout the world it grew more and more clear that budgets was high in terms of international travel, and that it was a growing trend to work with recruitment agents to ensure year round representation in the market. This sparked an interest in both me and my chairman to investigate the opportunity to set up an agency here in Norway. So the summer of 2006 when I finished my MA we started working on planning Study Outside Norway (SONOR) with the aim to represent
schools from Australia, New Zealand,  UK and the US. The 1st of January 2007 we went live towards students, and the rest as they say is history.

2.  You work with universities in a number of different countries, what are the differences working with American universities vs. UK universities? 

First and foremost it’s more difficult to create pathways with the biggest and highest ranked schools in the US. A lot of schools in the US have regulations towards working with agents, or any third party organizations where the aim is to recruit students.

Another obstacle we are faced with is that US institutions normally don’t have key personnel to handle all their international recruitment. You might end up in a situation where you deal with multiple people and only certain programs at a school. A typical element is that some schools will only recruit for their undergrad programs, or perhaps only their postgrad programs. At certain schools you might deal with different people at different faculties, something that makes the overall recruitment a bit more challenging.

For us here in Norway another aspect is the national funding scheme that Norwegian students are subject to get. It’s a generous scheme which entitles them to almost 35.000 USD a year in funding to cover tuition, room and board etc. Unfortunately for the US the Norwegian government does not give funding for freshman year studies. We are faced with finding schools that will allow students to start their studies as sophomore students, and that is not easy.

3.  Over the years, have you noticed any trends in international student recruitment?  What, in your opinion, is the future for recruitment agents? 

I hope that the future moves more towards a international governing body that will certify quality agents that adhere to practise of good manor and ethics in recruitment. The systems that are in place today like AIRC in the US is for a lot of agencies just too costly to take part in, creating a situation where only the biggest companies with the biggest revenues are able to take part. This in my opinion is contra productive in terms of what one is looking for. I hope that schools will spend more time looking into the companies they are working with so that we will get rid of the players in the market that don’t necessarily have the students’ best interest at heart, and therefore create a cleaner business. Although in all honesty we are not faced with these elements here in Norway (all agencies are part of a national code of conduct program), we still feel the scepticism throughout the world, especially in North America. The schools around the world hold the key here in terms of who they set up arrangements with.

Other trends that I’d like to see more of are the following:

  • Webinars – Gather students in a room to do webinars either with specific schools, or specific topics. Time is money, and we can’t be everywhere at all times, so new media is important to utilize.
  • Online sessions with students on how to create a great portfolio for creative arts for instance, and cater these for specific countries, and specific agencies.
  • More country specific online prospectuses.  Norwegian students like to get information that is relevant to them based on their background. These days it’s possible to do this to have online on websites, apps for Iphone/Ipad and Android etc. When you take away printing and distribution this is possible. Classic elements like admission criteria (courses, especially if you require in depth science in high school…at which level?), available courses (are there courses that are not available for international students), language requirements, available scholarships for international students and student testimonials from fellow countrymen :-)
  • Links with international companies for placement. Create pathways for Norwegian students to work with Norwegian companies to raise the schools profile and help the student get work experience.

Thank you, Kjetil!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacqueline Kassteen March 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm

We also saw the need for an international standard. Hence, ICEF partnered with Pier Online and has developed the ICEF Agent Training Course (IATC), which is an internationally recognised mark of excellence. ICEF has designed the IATC as a means of raising the standard of quality and the professionalism of student counsellors.

We developed the IATC based on the input of 769 education agents from 113 countries and 437 education institutions from 78 countries – a truly global effort!

As Kjetil points out, it’s important to ensure that an international standard is accessible. Taking the IATC online course is free and to get certified, agents can take the IATC Test, which only costs €250.

More information can be found here: http://www.icef.com/agent-training.html

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jguiver March 3, 2012 at 11:09 am

Hi Jacqueline

Thanks for the info. Perhaps as your agent training course becomes more well-known within the industry it will become something institutions look for.

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Arif Malik March 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Governing body must certify quality agents that adhere to practice of good manor and ethics in recruitment
Arif Malik recently posted..Taxation Management

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jguiver March 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Thanks for your comment, Arif. I think that is what Kjetil was suggesting, an international governing or accrediting body. One does not exist yet, but perhaps that’s something that needs consideration.

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