Q&A Agent association
Andrei Arsentiev, Area Board Chairman, talks about association developments past, present and future..
Full name of association: AREA Association of Russian Educational Advisors
Year established: 2007
Number of members: 27
What has been the main focus of AREA this year?
Area is a young organisation and we are still growing. This year we welcomed seven new agencies from different regions of Russia. This gives us an opportunity to broaden our horizons and learn a lot of specific things from our new colleagues. Each year we hold an AGM which gives us a perfect chance to communicate, discuss our achievements and set the objectives for the next year. Among our priority objectives are establishing fruitful collaborations with embassies to get the most up-to-date information from the origin and agree on the regular meetings with embassy staff as well as fast track visa application procedures for Area members. Thus we signed an agreement of collaboration with Languages Canada to facilitate visa procedures and are on our way to sign a similar one with the embassies of Ireland, Australia and the USA. Area is a member of Felca and this year we were accepted by Alto. Annually we organise a B2C exhibition fair for all Area members. Our members enjoy free access to ASM software as the registration fee is paid by Area.
Where do you stand on accreditation?
Area is rather careful in accepting new members. Newcomers need to meet all the established requirements and be approved by the acting members. Being an acting member of Area is a perfect selling point for the agency showing the reliability level to the clients. The Felca Accreditation code is the basis of our accreditation policy and should be used by all associations.
What challenges do member Agencies face?
Each year we see the number of direct bookings growing. Students keep using agencies to eventually book through the Internet on their own. Unfortunately, providers do not usually react the way we expect, some are even supporting this trend. We all really need to sit down and negotiate on this seriously. Besides, some agencies suffer from the uncertain legislation initiatives on the educational market that intend to divide the market to counsellors, agents and operators with certain severe regulations and huge money deposits.
Industry issues - agents speak out
Q. How far do university rankings influence a student when choosing where to study?
Anastassia Romanenko, Insight-Lingua, Russia
“We have a dedicated visa department in charge of constant monitoring of all visa application requirements, changes, submission and collection of documents. We try to maintain a working relationship with the consulates of our key destinations. The UK embassy, for example, regularly holds User Panel meetings, where a special board of selected industry representatives can raise their issues regarding UK visas. Our Director, Elena Solomonova, represents the education sector in those meetings. The British Council runs regular student visa update seminars. Other consulates, such as Australia or New Zealand also organise special seminars for agents to update us on the recent changes, which we find very useful. Some consulates practice accreditation for agencies that send many students to their destination and help us a lot by allowing us to submit applications on behalf of the students without queueing. The Association of Russian Educational Advisors (AREA), of which we are a member, is also working hard on lobbying our interests and streamlining visa processes for our clients.”
Maura Leão, Yazigi Travel, Brazil
“It is a must to be well informed and trained about the requirements from embassies and consulates for issuing a visa. However, it is always very challenging when we, as educational consultants, are not able to get proper information from official offices. Many countries are trying their best to facilitate this, and are offering training and user-friendly websites such as the US consulate in Brazil. As they trust Belta, the Brazilian Educational and Language Travel Association, we, as members, are promptly invited to attend training and can count on the association to address any difficulties we might have. Over the last six years, the association has developed this kind of relationship with many consulates. When there is a need to inform us on important matters, they do it through the association. I have seen this happen with the New Zealand, UK and Australian consulates. We are invited to participate in workshops and training sessions held during student fairs such as Expobelta. Spain and the UK do this often with Belta, as well. A country that is receiving a lot of students but is still yet to implement training in their needs for issuing a visa is Canada. I am aware Belta is discussing this matter with them. I can confirm that these relationships have improved a lot during the past few years, for there is a better understanding from the consulates about the agent’s role in the process of sending more students to their countries.”
Tatiana Sotomonte, Kaplan International, Colombia
“In recent years, communication channels set by embassies and consulates in Colombia have been significantly enhanced. However, the information provided to agencies and the public can be improved. As we all know, consular affairs are tightly connected to our internal situation, as well as to the international scene. Consequently, some countries have had to strengthen their migration policies, affecting the industry considerably. Fortunately, in other cases, consular changes have been beneficial and requirements for students have been properly adjusted. As an example, the US government has improved its confidence in our country and this has been translated into a substantial increase of student visa approvals. We would expect Colombian diplomatic relations, at multilateral levels, to keep improving, opening doors to a wider number of potential students.”
Agency of the month
In a series appearing each month in Study Travel Magazine, we ask a different teaching institution to nominate one of their preferred agencies or agent partners, and to explain why this person/company is worthy of their nomination.
This month London School of English (LSE) in the UK nominates British Side in Turkey. Neil Futerill, Market Manager at the school, explains this decision.
“It is not an easy thing to choose one agent from among the many excellent ones LSE works with, but British Side have been a consistently outstanding partner of ours since 2006. They have an excellent leadership team, with Pelin Akcay, their Director of Education Counselling, receiving great support from Selin Akcay and Beki Levi, among others. Their primary concern and this is perhaps the key to their great success in sending students abroad is that their clients should enjoy a counselling service of the very highest quality. This can make them, at times, quite demanding partners, but we would not want it any other way. As well as offering an excellent counselling service, they are a first-class English language school in their own right. As is so often the case, a first-class [language] trainer proves to be a first-class counsellor.”
“It is delightful to be associated alongside the brand of LSE. For us they symbolise top-quality education and a 360 degree partnership. We trust them entirely with our top clientele.”
Pelin Akcay, British Side, Turkey