Category: Education agents

Universities, international students and “agents” – the perceptional disconnect

“There is a huge perceptional disconnect that is endemic within university staff at all levels and demonstratively so, when it comes to the role and use of ‘agents'”

In his second entry for The PIE Blog, Naveen Chopra, Chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s top study abroad agencies, once again challenges the definition of and criticisms levelled at “agents” in the international education industry. See his previous blog here.

At the core of the persistent and on-going debate within the wider media and university sector on the use and relevance of “agents” since many years, there is a huge perceptional disconnect that is endemic within university staff at all levels and demonstratively so, when it comes to the role and use of “agents”.
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Naveen Chopra is chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s largest and most reputed student counselling organisations, working with over 10,000 students each year.

Universities, agents and international students: contribution and the controversy

“Let’s get this straight, shall we?”

Naveen Chopra, Chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s top study abroad agencies, takes on some of the criticisms aimed at agents in the international education industry.

Lately, a lot of stories have appeared in the media across the western world currently led by Australia’s newspapers, with headlines such as Gaping cracks open up in the Ivory Towers. Everyone is in on the act, including ABC’s Four Corners TV programme; which tried to demolish the reputation of Australian universities and the “agents” they use.
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Naveen Chopra is chairman of The Chopras, one of India’s largest and most reputed student counselling organisations, working with over 10,000 students each year.

As student numbers have increased, so too has our reliance on agents

“The fact that most students and universities are satisfied with agents does not mean that activity and relationships are maximised”

Vincenzo Raimo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Reading and Dr Iona Huang, Senior Lecturer, Harper Adams University, share their thoughts on OBHE’s recent report on agent use and what more can be done to support universities to optimise their agent relationships.

The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) this week published an incredibly informative report on international student recruitment agents. Many of the findings will not come as a surprise to those working in this area. Agents are vital to universities meeting international student recruitment targets and as student numbers have increased, so too has our reliance on agents. In fact, the OBHE reports that agents are now almost as important as university web sites in students deciding where to study.

But the fact that most students and universities are satisfied with agents, as found by the OBHE, does not mean that activity and relationships are maximised and that UK universities do not have issues with their agent work that needs attention. It is worrying that the OBHE found 20% of UK university relationships with agents to be outside of any formal contract and that where contracts exist 45% do not include any performance measures.

“It is worrying that the OBHE found 20% of UK university relationships with agents to be outside of any formal contract”

Together with Christine Humfrey, special professor in International Higher Education at the University of Nottingham, we will be publishing our own report on UK universities work with international student recruitment agents next month. Like the OBHE we found that almost all UK universities make explicit use of international student recruitment agents to achieve their objectives. But while the British Council, the Quality Assurance Agency and the UK Council for International Student Affairs all provide some guidance on the use of agents, there is very little support for universities on how to ensure their agent activity is utilised safely and to best effect. And unlike the position in some other countries such as Australia and New Zealand, there is no national framework or rules governing the way universities work with agents in the UK. Each university which works with agents has its own policies and procedures, framework for relationships and commission rates.

With the support of The British Council and the collaboration of a representative group of universities, including one which claims not to use agents, in-depth interviews, data collection and analysis of university– agent relationships, from the university perspective, were undertaken in 2013 to help better inform the sector’s use of agents and to  share good practice.

“There is very little support for universities on how to ensure their agent activity is utilised safely and to best effect”

Our study reports the view from universities and different approaches adopted to agent relationships.  We found that in most cases more could be done to ensure greater returns on investment in agent relationships while also providing greater protection for universities. Ten recommendations emerged from our research. Adoption of the recommendations will very much depend on an individual institutions risk appetite: how much are they willing to invest (time and money), what sorts of agencies they are happy to contract with and what type of contractual relationships they are prepared to accept.

Homestay: the make-or-break part of a student’s study experience

“A school can provide PhD-level teachers, gold-plated desks, a perfect nationality mix, and 100% graduation rates. None of that matters if the student is getting what looks like dog food for dinner”

Cam Harvey, owner of Working With Agents Consulting, writes about the importance of open and honest communication in a strong agent-school partnership – one that always puts the health and strength of their relationship first.

“I’m fascinated by the stories in international education. And there are stories out there. Lots of highly emotional stories.  Each one often has multiple, emotionally charged versions depending on who is telling it – the school, the student, the parent, or the agent.
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We’ve decided to be very transparent in our work with student recruitment agents

Vincenzo Raimo, Director, International Office at the University of Nottingham, UK, writes…

“The value of international students to UK universities is unquestionable and much more than just financial: they help create more diverse and interesting student communities, they help UK students develop a more global outlook and they help UK universities compete with the very best in the world by ensuring our student body, particularly at postgraduate level, is made up of the very best students from around the world.

But the need to bridge income shortfalls has put a great deal of pressure on international student recruiters to bring-in more students and increase income levels.
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Vincenzo Raimo is pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading in the UK.

International student recruitment & the power of agents

At the internationally active University of Nottingham in the UK, Vicenzo Raimo, Director of the International Office, shares his views:

“In an ever more competitive international student recruitment market, UK universities are increasingly relying on the use of student recruitment agents to meet targets. Not only are universities failing to appreciate the full costs of international student recruitment but some are also in danger of failing to meet ethical standards in their work overseas.

Despite the significant increase in international students coming to the UK in recent years I am concerned that as a result of increasing competition and the more difficult environment resulting from the UK government’s changes to visa requirements, recruitment agents have become too powerful and the balance of power between universities and agents has shifted increasingly towards agents.
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Vincenzo Raimo is pro-vice-chancellor (global engagement) at the University of Reading in the UK.

Federal Recognition of AIRC – Reflections by Mitch Leventhal

“As someone who was there at the birth of the American International Recruitment Council, I want to share some reflections about the role of federal recognition of standards development organizations in the international student recruitment debate.

By the mid-1990s, globalization of higher education had resulted in an international student recruitment environment significantly different than what had evolved during the prior post-WWII period. A vast industry of international student recruitment agencies had emerged; an industry nurtured by America’s Anglophone competitors in higher education – in particular, the United Kingdom and Australia – which fueled their rapid growth in their higher education exports, while eroding American market share.

American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards governing the field of agency-based recruitment.

Institutions had difficulty differentiating good operators from bad, were concerned both with their own reputational risk, and need to provide greater assurance that the interests of student were being protected.

American competition for international students was hampered internally by a lack of consensus-based industry standards

In addition, federal agencies appeared to be badly confused regarding the development of agency recruitment channels – with the State Department opposing the use of educational consultants for recruitment while the Commerce Department actively encouraged the same activity.

It was within this context that the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) was established by US accredited post-secondary institutions, led by several state research universities. The founders of AIRC noted an emerging body of federal legislation which encouraged the creation of industry-based, consensus standards organizations, and which required federal agencies to work with such bodies.

AIRC was modeled on US higher education accreditation, as a federally recognized consensus-based standards which would implement a stringent certification process capable of identifying good actors, and penalizing the bad.

All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved

The US Congress provided the impetus for the creation of the AIRC. The National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 not only recognized the importance of consensus standards bodies to the national economy, but it also required the use of such standards by Federal agencies.

It also explicitly encouraged Federal agency representatives to participate in ongoing standards development activities. In a 1998 policy Circular, President Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget directed heads of executive departments and agencies “to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.”

Immediately upon incorporating as a 501c3 in 2008, AIRC officially registered as a Standards Development Organization (SDO) with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. AIRC’s founding institutions invested in this consensus-based standards development effort with the full expectation that these efforts would be recognized by relevant federal agencies.

AIRC has fully observed the intent of the law and resulting policy. AIRC member institutions firmly believe that industry standards in the area of international student recruitment will provide a basis for better coordination among federal agencies and dramatically increase higher education exports, while providing greater protections for students.

International recruitment agencies which have successfully achieved AIRC certification did so with the expectation that AIRC standards and certification would be federally recognized. Investments have been made on the basis of this understanding.

Many of AIRC’s members have been disappointed that some US federal agencies have continued to issued ill-informed and misguided policy statements and directives which have directly undermined AIRC’s efforts while doing significant harm to the higher education industry.

All federal agencies should be aware of the legal standing that AIRC has achieved as an SDO, as well as their obligation to work with AIRC to ensure that consensus-based industry standards for international student recruitment are adopted as a means to strengthen US higher education exports, while providing enhanced consumer protections for students.”

Mitch Leventhal is Vice President at AIRC and Vice-Chancellor for Global Affairs at State University of New York, USA.