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Are international education conferences good for business?

You may not think that education is a business, but it is, especially international education. It is a unique network of interrelationships between governments, educational institutions, and businesses, especially those that are directly affiliated and benefit from those interrelationships like faculty, staff, students, and service providers. International education contributes nearly $300 billion to the global economy. It is a huge industry and the reason why business connections are vigorously pursued.

Like most industries, there are large conferences where thousands of people converge to learn the latest in policy changes or laws, rekindle relationships with business partners, or at least enjoy meeting like-minded colleagues. Most in the field consider them to be the best places to develop business. Yet attending these conferences is not cheap and can cost upwards of thousands of dollars because of travel, workshops, and more. You may think twice about what your return on investment will be before signing up.

What type of business occurs at an international education conference? Typically, there are exhibitions with universities, institutes, study and travel agencies, vendors, and governmental bodies. It is like a one-stop shop. For example, if you seek a partner with a European university, you can walk down the hall and meet universities from Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. You might find one of those countries' ministries of education providing key information and a vendor right next-door selling university tours. It can be an overload of information - certainly, an overload for your suitcase with all the marketing materials.

Most people think that they will get an immediate return from attending a conference. You travel to one place and meet people from around the world. It should be easy to develop business. I attended conferences and filled my time trying to find just the right person out of thousands who would sign a business agreement, so I could get a small piece of that big business. That rarely occurred. I came home exhausted with a stack of business cards to follow-up on, and most of those did not pan out. I am sure most conference attendees experience the same thing.

My advice is to approach large conferences as a venue for information gathering. It will serve as a conversation starter to what may come. It is also a great opportunity to learn. You will build an understanding about countries and regions and learn about their peoples and customs. You will identify the businesses that can meet your needs and hopefully build a mutually beneficial relationship over time. You will gain an appreciation of the impact international education has in a global sense but also at the individual level. In the end, your pursuits and reasons for attending the conference will be more realistic. And with any luck, it will be good for your business.
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