If your institution works with education agents to recruit international students, you’re already aware of the critical importance of due diligence – both on new and current agents – to protect your institution and students. When things go wrong with agents, students are the victims, and the consequences for them and their families can be severe and long lasting. Your institution may also suffer significant reputational damage from being associated with a unethical or dishonest agent.
The method of undertaking agent due diligence by seeking client references – i.e. references from other educational institutions that the agent represents – will be familiar to most in the industry. That approach is suggested by most agent management best practice guidance. Some institutions take the view that seeking agent references and agent due diligence are the same thing: “we’ve got strong agent due diligence measures in place, we seek institution references on all of our agent partners.”
Spoiler alert – client references on agents are part of the due diligence solution, not all of it. There is no doubt that educational institution references are a critical data point when undertaking due diligence on education agents, but use them knowing that there is a significant limitation inherent in the reference process – selection bias.
Selection bias: who isn’t the referee?
If you’ve spent a few years in the workforce you know that all references contain a bias. When you seek a reference for yourself you probably go to the former boss or supervisor with whom you had a good relationship and steer clear of the boss in the job where there was friction, or where you left on bad terms.
It’s not suprising that an education agent does the same thing when seeking a reference from an educational institution client. They ask the institution with which they have a good relationship, and for which they have met student recruitment targets.
Will you see a reference from an institution where the agent failed to meet agreed service levels or targets, or the institution that decided to terminate its contract with the agent. Unlikely.
Selection bias: what can you do about it?
There are some things you can do to reduce the effect of selection bias in the education agent reference process:
- Seek institution client references at random – many institutions have an ‘education agent application form’ on their website to attract expressions of interest from prospective new agents. Most of those online forms will ask the prospective agent to either upload references from client institutions, or nominate client referees. An alternative approach is to ask the agent for a full list of the institutions it represents, and from there select a number at random from which to seek references. This still has limitations, for example the list you get from the agent won’t include institutions that have terminated their relationship with the agent.
- Require full disclosure – include in your agent application form or initial questionnaire you give to new agents a question that goes to professional standards. A possible question could be:
- “Has any educational institution terminated its agency agreement with you within the last 5 years? If so, please list the institution/s and briefly explain the reason why the agency agreement was terminated.”
Going beyond institution client references
References on an education agent from a client institution will give you a view of the tip of the iceberg in its best light. They won’t reveal issues lying under the surface of the water that may cause problems for your institution and prospective students. A rigorous education agent due diligence approach will use institution references as one data point and compare it with other data sets like:
- market research – a simple web search on an agent can uncover a range of information that may be useful to inform your due diligence process.
- student feedback – seeking feedback from enrolled students on their experience with their education agent is a good way to build a picture of qualitative agent performance over time, and alert you to any emerging issues. Obviously this only works for ongoing due diligence on your current agents.
The catch is that those processes take time and it can be challenging for stretched in-house teams to maintain them.
A better education agent due diligence solution…
AgentBee’s education agent due diligence solution supports educational institutions to implement best practice education agent due diligence processes.
Educational institutions can use it to:
- do due diligence on education agents – check new agents before agreeing to work with them, and run regular checks on current agents.
- seek feedback from enrolled students on their agents – build a profile of qualitative agent performance over time.
Note for institutions in Australia, NZ and Manitoba – our solution supports compliance with your regulatory obligations regarding agent checking and monitoring.
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