to work with Harvard...
Harvard’s logo is posted
everywhere ISSUE #25 | THE PIE REVIEW | 25
To compete with newcomers to the education counselling
landscape, larger companies are offering a wider variety of
services, from English language training to pass proficiency
exams to bespoke packages that offer not just application
support but extra-curricular activity recommendations and
“The big companies have application departments, coun-selling
departments, extra-curricular activity counselling,
sales departments, English language and test prep centres
specialising in different aspects of the process. It’s like busi-nesses
within a big business,” says Ban Zhonghu.
The regional manager for South Asia, Mongolia and China
at EC English Language Centres, Ban himself has expe-rienced
the transformation of the agent business industry
over the past decade, witnessing the growth of individually
operated counsellors and studio companies. He believes
deregulation has helped the industry improve its reputation.
Yet while “bad actors” still exist, it is less of a problem than
before. Lying on applications, providing fake references and
even having professional test takers sit IELTS and TOEFL ex-ams
for students were among the issues that led the industry
to having been so strictly regulated in the first place.
Ban says that in many cases these services may not be ad-vertised
or encouraged, but some unprofessional agents may
still offer them once you “get in the door”. He encourages
schools to be careful in selecting who they work with.
That said, intellectual property remains a headache for
many involved in the industry – and indeed for those wor-king
in many industries in the country – as Mack explains.
“Everyone claims to work with Harvard. US universities
make it extremely clear that nobody is to use their logo. But
Harvard’s is posted everywhere.”
Mack calls this a “disconnect between the expectations of
universities and the reality of operating in China”, while also
pointing out that these claims from agents with no affiliation
to top universities mislead students as well as potentially
damage the reputation of brands.
Looking ahead, Xu envisions technology coming to play
a greater role in cementing trust and transparency between
clients, agents and partners. Index itself is currently explo-ring
“developing a system that can verify the students’
documents in a more sophisticated and automatic way”.
Prior to the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak – the full impact
of which is yet to be seen on the industry and the Chinese
economy as a whole – the picture seemed positive for the
agent landscape in the country.
“The industry market will certainly continue to grow in
the next few years, but the growth rate is leveling off, and
there should be no explosive growth if there are no policy
changes,” says Wu.
Other stakeholders echoed this view that the industry will
settle. “I think what happened was that immediately after
deregulation, you saw an exodus of high performing agents
from big companies who wanted to set up their own shop,”
adds Sharma at LEK. “It’s easy to build a small operation,
but it’s harder to scale up.”
A wide range of exhibitors
at China Education Expo
gives visitors the chance
to learn about new study
opportunities in places like
Spain and New Zealand
PHOTO: IES ABROAD