RAISING THEIR GAME
“Academics just don’t have an
understanding of all the work that
the agent does to find the students
Associations are understandably proud of the endorse-ment
that they can provide their members with. Maura Leão
is president of Belta, an association that represents 75 per
cent of the Brazilian study travel market. She explains that
an important part of an association’s work is to draw atten-tion
to the high standards of members.
“Belta has launched the Belta Seal in 2015, used by its
members, attesting the impeccable quality standards in the
services rendered to their clients,” she says.
“Belta promotes its members with the seal of quality by
the website, social media and PR. And every time we talk
to the media, we emphasise the importance of travelling
abroad to study with a Belta seal agency, because they are
trustworthy and reliable.”
Codes of conduct
So raising the image of agents is crucial for associations,
and they raise that image by improving standards. But how
exactly do they improve standards? At the heart of all
quality control are a set of mutual codes of conduct that
members sign up to when they join an association.
Rules differ from country to country and association to
association, but are often very thorough. A case in point is
the American International Recruitment Council, which was
started 11 years ago by US higher education professionals
who wanted to create a quality review scheme for agencies.
“We aspire to every student having an ethical experience,
in applying to and gaining admission to an institution here in
the United States. So our review process by which an agency
becomes certified is fairly comprehensive, some call it the
gold standard, if you will, in the US,” says AIRC executive
director, Mike Finnell.
As part of the AIRC vetting process, potential mem-bers
have to go through five steps that can take anywhere
between three and four months to up to a year. These steps
include the agency having to pay for a comprehensive back-ground
check in their native language, in the home country
of their head office. Prospective members also have to write
a self-report that shows they are able to meet 40 points
deemed appropriate by the US higher education community
through the association.
ISSUE #26 | THE PIE REVIEW | 35
good relationships with them, whereas stakeholders not
engaging directly can be more sceptical.
“When you talk to the marketing departments of a
university or college, agents and that level of the industry
get along very well indeed. All our careers we have been in-teracting
between agent and provider and on that level, there
is a very good understanding of the symbiosis of it, and how
industry has grown so successfully up there.”
He continues, “What we run into is that the academics,
the directors of some of the colleges, the government agen-cies
and others, just don’t have an understanding of all the
work that the agent does to find the students and bring them
to the office or their website.”
There are also cases of bad practice, something that Par-sonson
acknowledges. When an unscrupulous agent defrauds
students or engages in aggressive marketing strategies with
providers, the reputation for all agencies is damaged.
“There’s still bad practice, there’s no doubt about that. But
one of our aims is to make sure that this industry is sustaina-ble,”
“And a lot of agents were pushing that sustainability to
the edge, especially in Australia, where we have many small
private, vocational, and English colleges and the commissi-on
rates and the deals were getting crazy. They were getting
into 40-45 per cent commissions on tuition fees and that is
unsustainable,” he explains.
He says ISEAA encourages agent members and others
to think about relations long-term, and this is more relevant
than ever… “You’ve got to actually compromise and work
with providers in a partnership, rather than in an adversarial
sort of way”.
“So we have got to start to wind it back, which is very
difficult indeed, as there is a lot of competition between the
agents,” he says.
“The agents we work with – as a whole – want to see a
long-term in this business and they definitely see that we
need to rethink the model.”
Raising the reputation of its members can be a difficult
job for associations, but one that has real benefits. The grea-ter
the number of members, the more gravitas the associa-tion
has, which reassures providers and students.