Education agencies are enterprising intercultural businesses
but they have also been buffeted by stories of less scrupulous
operators emulating their business model – but not putting
students first. One response to this has been the emergence
of professional associations in various countries around the
ISSUE #26 | THE PIE REVIEW | 33
world, as Will Nott reports.
EDUCATION AGENCIES HAVE something
of a difficult relationship with the rest of the
international education industry. Headlines are
not always favourable. Just recently, The PIE News reported
on questionable practices by some education agents in Viet-nam,
who were charging for scholarships to US institutions.
Other headlines from The PIE include: Japan bans 12
Vietnamese agents, Immigration NZ uncovers “significant,
organised” agent fraud in India and Canadian providers
“vulnerable” to unregulated agent use. Such instances of
bad practice don’t paint a flattering picture.
Governments can also be wary of the education counsel-ling
industry; some have called for more regulation for a
sector where essentially anybody can start operating so long
as they can recruit students. For instance, an Australian par-liamentary
report from last year recommended that agents
needed to clear a federal police check and meet minimum
English proficiency requirements.
But despite concerns around bona fides and intent, and
with some stakeholders critical of the business model at
play, one thing is for certain: they play an integral role in the
recruitment of students around the world, and the profes-sion
is now well established, if not always well respected.
Robert Parsonson is executive officer of the International
Student Education Agents Association, a body that works
with agencies in Australia. He explains that 75 per cent of
international students in Australia are recruited using an
When you consider that the country’s international educa-tion
sector is worth $37billion Australian dollars, it gives
some sense of the huge contribution that agencies make.
This is a trend that plays out around the world.
There is a risk that negative press makes it look like agen-cies
are just out for their commission and don’t care about
their reputation within the industry. But for the majority of
agencies, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Reputation
is everything and businesses can be made or unmade based
on what is said about them.
“Reputation is massively important. Agents who have
been in business more than a decade need to have a good
reputation,” says Parsonson. “It doesn’t take much, if it
comes to an agent being splashed across the front page, it
can be very devastating for businesses and they can get a
serious downturn,” he adds.
This is where professional bodies and agency associations
come in. They play a key role in maintaining the image of
agencies and thereby protecting their businesses.
Associations seek to professionalise the sector, and pro-vide
strong guidelines for members to follow. Support with
best practice from associations not only helps students, but
in the end, it legitimises and improves the business prospects
of the agencies themselves.
The PIE spoke to agency associations from around the
world, to try and better understand how they provide strict
guidelines, help agencies avoid those difficult headlines and
ultimately make their sector more sustainable.