Challenges around the use of sub-agents in South Asia is a critical issue according to an independent expert report recently commissioned by the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI).
The South Asia Education Strategy 2020-25 covers wide range of issues relating to the provision, by Australian educational institutions, of education to international students from South Asian countries over the next five years. The role of education agents is covered in detail.
Below is a summary of the key issues and findings on the role of education agents. Even though the report’s frame of reference is the Australian market, much of the content is relevant globally.
Agents will continue to play an important role
- Agents will continue to be important for both institutions and students over the next five years. (Education agents currently recruit about 75% of the international students who study in Australia each year.)
- Agents must become more involved in on-boarding students in Australia and ‘be benchmarked against their performance’.
The use of sub-agents is widespread but lacks transparency
The report identifies the use of sub-agents as the “No.1 critical issue” for many educational institutions. Most institutions do not permit their authorised agents to use sub-agents but the practice is “deeply embedded” in South Asia. The report goes on to say:
Agents are collaborating and in some cases signing agreements with sub/referral agents without permission from their institutional partners. There is a need for transparency with respect o the use of sub-agents.
Unethical onshore agents are a problem
The report notes a growing problem of education agents based in Australia who are deliberately ‘churning’ students, or in other words, encouraging them to ‘course hop’. This is a particular problem in Sydney and Melbourne.
The report alleges that some educational institutions are complicit in this activity, offering ‘scholarships’ of up to $10,000 to encourage students to switch institutions. Those scholarships are widely perceived as fee discounts and are seen by many as a “race to the bottom”.
The report makes the following recommendations with respect to education agents:
- Whilst acknowledging the importance of the agent’s onoing role in the future, the network (agents and providers) must be cognisant of the perceptions of many key stakeholders of the “poor behaviour” of agents particularly onshore within Australia.
- Providers and their offshore agents must continue to be vigilant over both the actions and quality of sub-agents and put in place systems and processes to ensure compliance, as this has been viewed as a key issue by many stakeholders.
- Agents should consider students as “lifelong customers” and have continued engagement with them beyond the commencement of their studies.
- Providers should consider agents as colleagues and not purley ‘business partners’, responsible for meeting commercial targets of their institutions.
- Agent associations will continue to grow, but their first priority should be to ensure their members are acting with integrity with the student as their key focus especially if trying to establish their chapters outside their own region.