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What do education agents want from learning providers?

November 19, 2019

Media article published by University to Business on 17 October 2019.

As universities ramp up efforts to grow their international enrolments and stay competitive in a saturated marketplace, it becomes increasingly important that they maintain a strong network of education agents.

More often than not, agents are the first point of contact between a student looking for a study abroad opportunity and a learning provider. A study by World Education Services estimates that education agents are used in the application stage by 79 percent of international students around the world.

In Australia alone, roughly three out of every four international student enrolment to universities, TAFEs, private colleges and registered training organisation (RTO) in the country has involved an education agent.

For parents and prospective students, agents are regarded as trusted advisors who help them navigate the complicated university applications process. For institutions, they represent a cost-effective way to recruit internationally and establish a local presence in key source markets abroad, without the need to recruit internally.

A strong agent-provider relationship, therefore, is a win-win for all stakeholders involved, including the international student community.

New research from Cohort Go, a leading global edtech firm that enables international education, has found that crucial to ensuring this is transparency and trust, two aspects of the relationship that the majority of education agents value above commissions.

In its survey of over 400 agents from countries including China, Vietnam and Australia, Cohort Go’s The State of Education Agents 2019 report found that 74 percent of agents found transparency on costs and course information to be one of the most important in their relationship with providers.

A close second is the strength of personal relationships between agent and provider, with nearly 70 percent of respondents identifying this as important. 

Roughly 50 percent, meanwhile, ranked accuracy and speed of commission payments as important, while 47 percent said it was the value of commissions that mattered.

“Education agents are a major driver of the international education ecosystem, and it’s fantastic that the majority want to be involved in multiple facets of the international student experience.” Mark Fletcher, CEO and co-founder of Cohort Go said.

For the survey, Cohort Go tapped the insights of key executives within the education agent business. About half (49.38 percent) of those surveyed are working in the position of owner or director of an agency, which indicates these are concerns being felt at the top levels of the industry.

Respondents were also asked for their biggest challenges, to which many called for improvements in response times, accuracy of information and delays with processing applications. 

“Keeping the lines of communication open and sharing up-to-date information with agents should remain a strong focus of Australia’s education community,” Fletcher said.

Education agents also named health insurance as the biggest additional service opportunity, with many already providing the service to students.

The second and third opportunity areas, meanwhile, are global payments services (73.09 percent) and student accommodation (64.2 percent).

The agents also listed accommodation as a major pain point, particularly when it concerns information on whether or not the provider had available housing options. Nearly 47 percent of agents were in agreement on this, while nearly a quarter at 24.2 percent said they would run into problems when unable to book housing on behalf of their students.

“It’s clear that there are opportunities for education providers to build strong and mutually beneficial relationships with this important group of stakeholders by getting the basics right,” Fletcher said.

He said accommodation providers should also use the opportunity to better tap into agent networks.

“Agents want to offer accommodation assistance to their students, but many feel that they do not have the information they need, especially around the availability of services,” he said.

The Cohort Go State of Education Agents 2019 report drew insights from agents who placed students in major education markets such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the UK. Almost every agent (95.31 percent) listed Australia as a destination country, while roughly half of them worked with providers in the other major markets.

Throughout August, 405 agents, owner/directors, region/country managers, branch managers, admissions officers, and student counsellors completed a 15-question survey which included a range of multiple-choice and open-ended responses.