April 2011 issue

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Collecting credentials

There are numerous affilliations, accreditations and certifications available to the study travel advisor. Amy Baker reviews many of the schemes around.

AI have passed the British Council agency training course with distinction,” relates agent Manar Wassouf from Alamal Educational Services in Bahrain proudly. “This course [provided me with] lots of beneficial information about the UK education system and this [recognition] by the British Council helped me a lot in building new relationships with UK institutions.”

Wassouf relates a response that is precisely the sort of feedback that will make the British Council pleased that it adopted such an initiative in the first place. It was the pioneer of the training scheme, a market-specific training course that enables successful ‘students’ to mark themselves out with a badge of honour.

There is a range of such schemes available within the industry now and they elicit a wide-ranging response from study travel advisors. For many, they are a valuable tool and a useful way to stand out from the crowd (or in some markets, keep up with the crowd – the EATC course in Australia has some 11,969 “trained” agents and counting, with 699 advisors qualified in Australia alone).

Others, who haven’t yet chosen to undergo any sort of training or affiliation, wonder if they will be useful to them. Sandra Wirth, Managing Director of Inwox in Germany, observes, “To be honest, it does not matter if we are trained or not. The customers come to us because of our great reputation. We do participate if possible but it is more for us to do on top.”

And Claudio Cesarano, Managing Director of globo-study Sprachreisen in Switzerland, says, “The most important thing that matters is to be a member of the local association of language travel agencies in the country – Salta for Switzerland – and to have your security covered and the payments secured of the students.” He says that globo-study is a Quality English agent (this is not a training programme but requires references) and an Ialc partner agency (similar) but has undergone no training programmes. “After [agency association membership] it matters how ex-students rate the agent on the website and where the staff have been to test the schools we offer.”

Bet E Wolff, on the other hand, Executive Director of BEW Network in Argentina, is a keen advocate. “This is a key area,” she says, “because some education and work counsellors are trained, but many others are not, and we are in the same sack. So us, the educated ones, we have to stand out.”

She observes that with the Internet enabling some students to book directly, there is an increasing pressure on advisors to prove their professional credentials. “We have to know more and be better, and keep updated,” explains Wolff, adding that she was the first advisor in South America to receive the ICEF certificate as a result of undertaking their ICEF Agent Training Course (IATC): “Nothing that new in the course content, but it is nice try to review all that we know and use.”

She commends the fact that the information is all online, the course is not too time consuming and that the training course is affordable – in fact, the IATC course is free, although there is a fee of e250 (US$338)to take the formal assessment test. Wolff has also undertaken the agent training workshop and certification evaluation delivered by Education New Zealand. She says she would also consider undertaking the Australia-specific EATC delivered by Pier, but studies for a Masters in business means this is not a priority at the moment.

As well as many of the training schemes that are available, there is also a full-blown accreditation scheme run by the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) for agencies that are keen to work in the US market. It should be noted that AIRC accreditation is a very different scheme from all others available and as a result, comes with a far heftier price tag. Mark Lucas, Managing Director of iAE Global – one of the 33 AIRC-accredited companies to date – explains why iAE decided to undertake the AIRC accreditation scheme: “Until the advent of AIRC, there was little scope for student recruitment companies like iAE Global to work with US universities in the same way we do with universities in Australia, NZ, UK and Ireland,” reports Lucas.

AIRC has US academic links in that its Board of Directors includes those working in the university and college sector in the USA; some of whom were the instigators of the accreditation scheme.

So, some of the schemes that we have chosen to profile are “lightweight” loyalty schemes and others are heavyweight, intensive accreditation schemes. In the middle sit the training programmes that are usually delivered online and result in a certificate that can be used by the successful test taker; these types of programmes are generally aimed at individuals.

Kiwi angle
Education New Zealand’s model is unique in that it is not a distance training programme offered online or aimed at individuals, however. As Michelle Waitzman at Education New Zealand explains, “Nobody can be accredited unless they have attended the training session in person as we do not offer an online or distance training version.” Currently, the training programme is offered in 19 countries, with Russia being the latest location, added in March this year.

Waitzman explains, “The training session lasts for a full day and gives agents a strong knowledge base regarding New Zealand, our educational system and qualifications, our geography and culture, visas and immigration… and how to sell NZ as a study destination. We also outline the quality assurance systems in place.”

She explains that the training day ends with a multiple-choice test. In order to pass this test, agents must achieve a score of at least 75 per cent. Those who pass need to provide references, pay NZ$300 (US$226) and agree to abide by the code of conduct. In return, their company becomes accredited, is provided with marketing materials and a certificate for their offices, able to use the New Zealand Specialist Agent logo, and have their details listed on Education New Zealand’s student web portal.

An important change to this scheme, as Waitzman details, is that agencies are now accredited, as opposed to individual agents. She says, “We decided to move from accrediting agents to agencies because individual agents often move around within the industry. When an agency is accredited, at least one member of the senior management team (or the owner) attends the training, sometimes along with consultants from the agency. This ensures some continuity within the agency if consultants come and go.” Renewal procedures have also been established recently – further reference checks and performance in terms of recruitment are subsequently monitored to ensure ongoing accreditation as a New Zealand Specialist Agent.

British pioneers
The British Council’s Education UK certificated online training programme was the first on the scene, established in 2003 as a direct result of the Council aiming to forge closer relations with education agents. This scheme is aimed at individuals; although this course is delivered online, advisors are still required to undertake a two-hour exam at a British Council office, and therefore, the full certification process is limited, although currently available in 40 countries.

Gillian Davies at the British Council explains that the popular six-to-eight week training programme is modified depending on the market and the papers from the two-hour exam are marked and then sent to the UK for moderation “so we can be sure that the same standard is being achieved worldwide”. She adds, “Quality assurance is paramount. The formal exam has been retained in order to ensure the rigour and quality of the training.”

Certificates may be presented at an awards ceremony in-country, and delivery of the training programme is mainly online but many offices also hold support meetings.
Aussie rules

In Australia, Pier rolled out its Education Agent Training Course (EATC) in 2006 with the backing of the government’s Australian Education International (AEI). EATC Manager, Eva Pap, says that participation has been growing steadily: from 57 registered members using the online course in December 2005 to 11,969 in February 2011.

“[The course] encourages and supports excellence in business service delivery, study and career pathways and professional development,” asserts Pap, who details that Pier (Professional International Education Resources) is always trying to find new ways to support agents and counsellors, with an agents’ forum just one way in which qualified agents can network and further improve their professional standards.

She points to the fact that the Australian government was urged to consider using the EATC as a benchmark of quality when reviewing policy relating to education agents in the Baird Review. “EATC is used as a benchmark for engaging quality professional agencies to promote Australian international education,” she underlines.

Agents passing the EATC gain QEAC status – Qualified Education Agent Counsellor. Pap explains that they receive a logo with a unique number that can be checked in the QEAC database to ensure validity.

ICEF approach
Given that ICEF’s IATC was designed on a similar model, in collaboration with Pier, ICEF-trained agents also receive a unique “ICEF Trained Agent Counsellor” number and educators can check this number online at icef.com, says Korinne Algie.

She explains that ICEF’s course, rolled out last year, aims to provide student counsellors with an understanding of the overall international education market and the main destination countries for international students; the skills and research parameters to analyse destination countries and their education products and processes; and functional dynamics of dealing with students, education institutions, and governments.

In terms of ongoing development, Algie notes, “We have set up an extensive advisory board including top international universities, select agents and industry associations to regularly review and monitor IATC.”

Partner pledge at English UK
English UK also joined the fray last year with its Partner Agency Scheme, aimed at companies rather than individuals. As well as providing references and attending an English UK-organised event, prospective English UK partner agencies have to attend a briefing seminar in order to pass muster. “The seminar itself is intensive but informal,” relates Siobhán Baccas at English UK. One development under consideration is to make the briefing seminar available via the web – this would enable many more agencies to take part. ”Otherwise, it’s all very new at the moment,” says Baccas.

AIRC in America
Finally, the American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) rolled out a substantial accreditation scheme last year aimed at enabling agencies to forge links with higher education institutions that were wary of using third-party recruiters at all. Undergoing an accreditation inspection – and paying for that too – has meant that US institutions are more inclined to sign partnerships with AIRC-qualified companies, according to Lucas, representing AIRC-accredited iAE Global.

“AIRC offered the chance for reputable recruitment companies to develop relations with US institutions,” he says. “We have been talking to AIRC members for nearly 18 months and are now signing agreements with top US institutions on a regular basis.”

John Deupree, Executive Director of AIRC, explains that the three founding members “decided to form an organisation, closely modeled on US higher education accrediting bodies, to both create Standards and a Certification process which was both rigorous and enforceable” to help broker the use of study travel advisors.

He elaborates, “It has been a common perception in the United States that agency-based recruitment is either unethical or, if not unethical, that identifying quality agents is complex and time consuming and therefore not a practice that many institutions can undertake. The creation of an American-style certification process simplifies the process for institutions and reassures them regarding the quality of the partnerships they choose.”

The accreditation process includes a background check of an agency, a self-study and an external review of one or more offices as deemed appropriate. As well as a non-refundable application fee of US$2,000, a certification fee to cover the cost of the external review starts at US$3,000 and an annual membership fee is also required; this starts at US$1,500.

Some agencies however, believe that agent accreditation would be better delivered by agencies themselves and the Federation of Education and Language Consultant Associations, Felca, is currently making strides in this area by encouraging members to ensure that individual agencies abide by the Felca accreditation code.

The scope of schemes on offer differ widely – some attest to general professional competency, others to more in-depth knowledge of a country’s education system and visa rules while others still suggest a guarantee of professional integrity. They may be worth consideration for those keen on endorsement from fellow professionals.

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