If there’s one thing that unites education agents all over the world, it’s this: they’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Larger agencies in particular are expanding to offer more auxiliary services going way beyond just connecting students and schools.
But data collected from both students and agents in 2019 show a handful of areas ripe for further exploration. From health insurance to employment, the world of education agents abounds with opportunities and Cohort Go’s new The State of Education Agents 2019 study shows many are already on the right track.
Of course, there are some serious barriers but when combined with student feedback from the Aussie Study Experience Annual Report 2019, the results are illuminating.
The question: What essential services do you see as the biggest opportunity to offer to your students?
There are three key sectors for agents to expand into, each with varying levels of difficulty, risk and reward. Insurance, accommodation and financial services are all obvious areas to explore because they’re so critical to a student’s experience studying overseas and many of the existing options are far from ideal.
In a survey of 405 agents operating in dozens of countries and serving the world’s biggest education markets, student health insurance quickly emerges as the most popular target, with 78% of agents vouching for its importance. That’s unsurprising, because it’s an area already well served by agents in some countries and it can be handled remotely and relatively simply. According to the Aussie Study Experience Annual Report 2019, it’s also an area where students already feel comfortable working with agents. The majority (59%) of respondents to that survey said they chose health insurance through their education agent, radically outnumbering those who looked to their university (14.68%) or even went online (11.95%). Of course, that means more than 40% of the market is still ready for exploration.
Banking is the other major financial service on agents’ radars but it’s far less popular. Just 29.63% see it as the biggest opportunity and several highlight significant problems, specifically documentation and the ability to open accounts on behalf of students or from overseas. Some of the feedback from individual agents includes:
“Students would prefer to carry an international credit card and some cash, and open their account after arrival, instead of before.”
“Being able to open their account on the name of the student and for them [the bank] to provide the accurate and on time information and services to the students.”
As an agent, students don’t really need to rely on us to open up a student bank account , as most of the students manage to open it themselves during the orientation week.”
“There is nothing important [no major barriers]. It’s always easy to open an account for students.”
The other obvious opportunity for change comes in the accommodation space. Cohort Go previously explored the changing face of student accommodation in Australia, and what that meant for agents. In short, it can be a tough market thanks to competition from established players, a lack of readily available information from providers on availability and rates, and a tendency for students to want to move on to cheaper options such as share houses once they arrive. Responses to the agent survey reinforce these ideas, both through the raw numbers and anecdotally. Almost half of respondents (46.67%) say gauging availability is the biggest barrier, while a further 18.52% highlight a lack of pricing transparency. A quarter (24.20%) feel the inability to book on behalf of students creates the most difficulties, while other problems include timeframes and rooms not being accurately represented online through descriptions or pictures. Some of the anecdotal barriers include:
“They don‘t commission agents well, not worth the hassle.”
“Tough to manage in [a] quick way.”
“Quality of the product, what happens if there is a problem?”
“Breach and failures in the conditions offered in the accommodation.”
“The time frame for the application to be submitted. Most of the students get waitlisted and we are not sure if the student will get a place to live or not.”
“Apart from availability, the quality and condition of the premises.”
What about jobs?
For students, particularly those studying in countries more expensive than their own, opportunities to work while studying are essential. Agents are divided as to whether such an endeavour is likely to be worth the hassle but they agree overwhelmingly that it’s not their responsibility. When asked about the possibilities there are no shortage of ideas, from working with local job providers, informal networking and help with preparing CVs, right through to one-to-one career counselling support.
But agents are also quick to highlight the problems with venturing into this space. They highlight difficulties with looking for jobs on behalf of students while offshore and the idea that universities, social media groups and new friends in the destination country are often better placed to help.
“Agents could coordinate with the schools/institutions but it would be the latter that will mainly handle the application of the students in finding jobs,” one respondent says.
“Agents like us, who are thousands of miles away from the students, will have a hard time in monitoring or assisting promptly the students in looking for prospective jobs.”