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New master agent models magnify the transparency gap

New master agent models magnify the transparency gap

Published by Jason Howard

New technology platforms have transformed the way we do just about everything. It’s hard to imagine booking a holiday without first turning to an online platform to research all options, including advice from others through forums and reviews, before making any decisions.

But applying for overseas study is more complex than booking a trip. Making the wrong decision about course loads, costs or even language proficiency can have far-reaching consequences for the student, their family, and also for the education provider and their reputation in a global marketplace.

That’s why it’s so important to preserve the value an education agent provides, even as their model of delivery evolves.

The rise of online and self-service master agents

With increasing consumer expectations for 24/7 convenience and speedy service, it’s not surprising the international agent model has expanded to incorporate online-only master agents. Online counsellors can provide expert guidance and advice for individual students, without the need to visit an agent’s office. 

However, if these platforms become little more than self-serve application portals, a vital step in the advice chain is lost – and there is greater potential for issues if GTE (genuine temporary entrant) assessments are not carried out properly, or visa applications are made without thorough candidate vetting. 

These risks can also be exacerbated through the use of sub-agents, as the recent Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) advisory discussed. Sub-agents are education agents who provide a master agent with applicants, but don’t have a direct contract with the institutions involved.

Under Australia’s ESOS (Education Services for Overseas Students) Act, in order for agents to represent Australian institutions they must have a formal agreement with the institutions they serve, including a listing on that institution’s website. Education providers spend time and money training their partner advisers to support the fulfilment of their agreements, ensuring a quality pipeline of future students. But that effort may be wasted if the principal agent is simply delegating all student recruitment tasks to a network of sub-agents. 

While the practice of using sub-agents has been going on for some time as a lead generation tool, it’s concerning that institutions may have less visibility over who is recruiting, advising, vetting and guiding their incoming students. Particularly in light of the ESOS Act revision from October, which will require the details of the individual agent employee involved in each application to be entered into the Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS).

AAERI has advised its members that allowing sub-agents to apply to a provider, or apply for a visa on behalf of an applicant, could lead to future reputational damage. It recommends the principal agent takes responsibility for admissions and visas, and providers should also list ‘engaged sub-agents’ on their websites. 

This seems reasonable, given the principal agent is accountable for compliance under their agreements. Masking their workflow without proper checks and balances is in no one’s best interest. However, the industry still needs greater confidence in the transparency of the process. 

As demand for education grows, so will the risks of careless practices

With some forecasts suggesting global higher education enrolments are expected to grow by nearly 200% by 2040, new and scalable models will be needed to meet the continual increase in demand amongst international students. Students and their families will continue to make major (and expensive) decisions to study overseas – and there is an important role for quality, ethical agents to play in guiding them through their best options.

As a technology provider itself, StudyLink supports the application of technology to solve this challenge – as long as it is used to provide valuable advice and quality service in an ethical way, and continues to meet the agent’s obligations under institution agreements and regulatory changes. 

These different agent models will also need to be subject to the same rules and performance metrics as traditional agents – such as enrolment benchmarks, and visa rejection and degree transfer rates.  

To do this, the industry will need a more consistent and visible process for capturing and sharing agent data, ensuring the complete transparency that agents, providers and government agencies need. StudyLink is well-positioned to help with this, as our focus is on ensuring everyone has the ability to access the right information to make more informed decisions at every step of the process.

APAIE 2018: Opportunities and challenges for admissions in the digital age

Last month at the APAIE conference in Singapore, over 2000 delegates from 53 different countries came together to tackle one question: what impact will the fourth industrial revolution have on higher education in the Asia Pacific? While we took the opportunity to present our research on the emerging tech’s potential to grow global agent connections, we also learned some interesting things. Here are a few takeaways.

Technology is still a major barrier between agents and institutions

Although StudyLink Connect is now the industry standard, many institutions are still working with their own portals – making it difficult to recruit through agents. In fact, we heard that some of these colleges and universities aren’t working with recruitment agents at all because they fear their application processes are too complicated. Agents are facing similar frustrations. Overwhelmingly, they told us that they would like more universities and colleges to implement StudyLink Connect – to help reduce the time and money spent working within multiple, complicated systems. What does this tell us? Some institutions are still reluctant to seize the automations advantage – missing the clear benefits of maximising their global agent connections.

More agencies are consolidating to keep up

As technology continues to transform international admissions, smaller agencies are consolidating with larger, better-resourced agencies in order to invest in their own digital developments. This was a key trend in our discussions with agents at APAIE – and something that also came up in our recent Agent Advisory Meeting.


Agents want StudyLink to service more sectors

Agents would like to see StudyLink opened to more sectors, such as vocational education and English language colleges. This is something we’re very interested in, and we’ll be undertaking user testing on new Agent Portal features over the coming months.

Find out how AECC Global have used StudyLink Connect to submit more than 4,600 applications to institutions across the world

NZ positioned for exponential international education growth

New Zealand is already known for punching above its weight when it comes to rugby prowess and stunning scenery. And it will soon prove a worthy global contender in the international education sector, with the New Zealand government targeting a 25% increase in the value of this sector to its economy by 2025.

International education is already New Zealand’s fourth largest export, and in 2015 124,000 international students chose to study in this Pacific nation. But scaling up to a NZ$5billion market will require an investment in agent relationships and student admission systems, as the presentations at this year’s NZIEC revealed in August.

In preparation for our first venture into this important market as an exhibitor at New Zealand’s annual international education conference, we carried out a survey in July. We wanted to understand what advantages New Zealand already offers international students, and what their admissions experience is like today. And the best place to find out is from the people who talk to those students every day – the international agents already working with this market.

Security and stability attract more students

In good news for New Zealand, achieving that level of growth may be quite straightforward. 61% of the 92 agents who responded have seen a surge in enquiries into studying in New Zealand, and 78% anticipate the number of students applying to increase over the next two years.

They cite safety (72.8%), quality of education (67.4%) and value for money/cost of living (56.5%) as the main reason New Zealand is increasing in popularity.

NZIEC delegates also expect the growing Chinese middle class will fuel growth – but it’s worth noting they will be recruiting in an increasingly competitive global market, including the rapid expansion of opportunities at home.

China already provides 40% of New Zealand’s international students at university, according to Adele Bryant of ThinkNew. She also noted China has 318 million millennials – but Chinese study abroad student numbers are forecast to peak at 700,000-800,000 in 2022.

Admissions will need to scale with demand

With this in mind, there is work to be done. One of the biggest hurdles for New Zealand institutions is streamlining admissions management in advance of increased demand. International agents told us of their frustrations with application turnaround time in New Zealand (42.4%) and the inability to check the status of applications (27.2%), along with poor communication (16.3%).

These are all issues we’ve seen and dealt with before in Australia. Through Studylink Connect, with our cloud-based admissions platform, providers reduce data entry and workload, and improve turnaround time, compliance and communication. A third of Australia’s higher education providers now use the system.

In just two examples, University of South Australia recently cut turnaround time from up to six weeks to as little as 48 hours, while Western Sydney University slashed its turnaround from 10 working days to three – while at the same time increasing the number of acceptances.

Just as we’ve seen in the digital transformation of other industries, an efficient paperless workflow system is fundamental for scalable growth. One that also captures and analyses valuable data and provides performance reporting is a competitive advantage.

Easier for agents, improved student outcomes

The agents we surveyed are just a representation of the 6,800 who use StudyLink Connect globally. They told us that when institutions implement our platform, turnaround time improves, as does communication between provider and agent. They also have increased visibility over the application process, and it cuts data entry.

These factors will also become even more important as New Zealand seeks to scale the number of students who apply, and successfully study, in its higher education system.



Uncertain times, new opportunities

With the election of Donald Trump in the US, the crisis in the Eurozone and Brexit continuing to be high on the political agenda of Theresa May, 2017 is sure to see some interesting changes for international students and institutions alike. 

Predictions coming from the UK are showing that a cap on international students is likely to cost the British economy more than GBP2 billion per year. Part of which, it is anticipated, will be made up by an increase of fees paid by European students coming to the UK. The US, on the other hand, are likely to lose substantial revenue from international students due to President Trump’s recent immigration ban and ongoing political instability within the region. The impact of these changes is not necessarily going to be felt by the elite universities of the region, but by the second and third-tier colleges and universities who rely on international student fees to aid in the employment of top teaching staff and award winning facilities.   

As the world continues to grapple with numerous potential changes, particularly across Europe, the Middle East, UK and the US, international student numbers are continuing to rise in Australia. Information released by the Department of Education in February shows that Australia continues to shine. International student enrolments have increased by 10%, up from 8.9% the year prior, and continue to lead the way when compared with other English speaking study destinations. 

Despite uncertain times, the education market remains highly competitive and continues to face many factors simply out of our control – political leaders, immigration policies, exchange rates to name just a few. It is, therefore, crucial to continue to focus on those factors that are within our control. A future students’ experience throughout the application process is crucial to the success of institutions and is well within the institution’s control. 

Increased service quality and responsiveness, improved turn-around times, simplified and standardised processes as well as accurate and tailored reporting while also integrating with other software and systems are all areas within an institution’s control with StudyLink Connect. Having a system in place that will nurture and grow relationships within the institution, with business partners and applicants alike, will ensure the investment made is able to produce maximum results. 

To find out more about how StudyLink Connect works, please contact Jason Howard

US market insights: smarter systems key to attracting international students

By Jason Howard, Managing Director, StudyLink Connect

There’s no doubt the US has finally awakened as an international student destination. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported last December, the number of foreign students enrolled at American colleges has increased almost 73 per cent since 2005-6.

That’s why I was interested to see just how far the conversation has evolved over the last three ICEF conferences in Miami. When I first represented StudyLink there in 2013, US education providers were still debating the merits of using international agents. In 2014, they started asking how they could work with them more effectively. But last December, we had informed conversations about our technology platform, and how Australian universities are using it to effectively recruit international students.

For me, the tipping point moment at that meeting was when an agent presentation showed US providers now represent 30 per cent of their portfolio. That’s from a base line of almost zero three years ago.

Lessons from Australia

So what does a nation with over 4,000 colleges and universities, and 17 million students, think it can learn from a country with just 43 universities?

Australia has always outperformed in the international education market. In 2015 education services generated an impressive export income of $19.65billion, making it the largest services export for the nation. It’s still the third most popular destination for international students after the US and the UK – partially assisted by a more competitive Australian dollar and appealing immigration policies.

Another factor behind this success is the streamlined way overseas students can connect with agents and institutions, resulting in 640,922 full-fee paying international students last year.

The Australian model, built on those strong relationships with international agents, seems to be working, and this is why US institutions are more open to dealing with international agents rather than forcing students to apply directly.

It’s great to see the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) work with the International Education Association of Australia (IEEA) to develop global agent certification standards, because this will form the foundation of transparent, streamlined systems and processes. Meanwhile, international agents are certainly lining up to get the accreditation they need to work with US institutions.

Why are US colleges going global?

In the past, international students may have been seen as ‘nice for campus diversity’ in the US. Now they are essential for enrolment numbers and revenue, with more domestic students choosing to stay in their home state and ever-increasing local competition amongst providers.

International student growth has been patchy. Around 75 per cent of colleges have more foreign students today than they did 10 years ago – but many have gone backwards and those are typically the ones also struggling with domestic enrolments. How this plays out will be interesting – I suspect we may see the overall number of providers decrease over the next decade with smaller colleges under more pressure to find students.

One thing is clear from the discussions I’ve had with providers and agents around the world. Working with agents takes a lot more than dealing with data and email traffic. You need to invest in streamlined systems to nurture long-term agent relationships.  Or, as agents told providers at the AIRC conference, “look to Australia and get professional.”

One student admissions platform for efficiency and growth

If you value the education agent as an important channel, it’s time to be more efficient. Remove the friction in the student admissions process for agents and students – online applications, transparent tracking and fast offer turnaround can make all the difference. Our student admission platform frees up admin staff time to focus on student conversions – as Griffith University found when it deployed our platform a few years ago. Because staff weren’t spending time manually entering data, they could call prospective students – and they increased commencements by 37 per cent. We’re already processing around a third of all agent-initiated international student applications in Australia, and this looks set to increase to 50 per cent by the end of 2016. What’s more, we recently set up two US-based institutions – one a major provider, one a small college. In the process, we discovered just how cumbersome the US student application process is – which is why we also streamlined it for them. Less friction, better student and agent experience. In other words, if you’re not working with us, your competitors and best agents probably already are. The good news? You don’t have to build an agile international student admissions platform yourself. We can get you set up and running on StudyLink Connect in just four weeks – giving you a head start in the increasingly competitive race for international students. Contact us today to find out how you can be up and running with StudyLink Connect in 4 weeks.

Australia’s foreign commencement growth “wide and deep”

Australia’s recovery story continues as a first-of-its-kind report by the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) reveals international student commencements in Australia have rebounded after five years of shrinkage. The first six months of the year have seen more than 422,000 new commencements – an 11.5% increase on January to June 2013, with green shoots being seen in the ailing VET sector and notable growth from most source markets.

Read the rest of the article at The Pie News
1 million student applications processed!