In the world of study abroad, the basic transaction between buyer and seller takes place between language student or academic student and education institution (often via an agency). Education is an emotional, high-stake investment, as the founder of new online education marketplace, Global Campus, put it to me, but it is nevertheless a commodity that is bought and sold.
A disdain for this viewpoint has meant US higher education institutions have shied away from using agents to supply them with students fearing that this is unethical or that agencies will not have a student’s best interests at heart. However, with the news that IDP and Hobsons are planning to launch themselves into the US market offering student recruitment services, opinions may soon change. It will be interesting to see if these new large “corporate agencies” have greater success than independent agencies in turning the tide of opinion.
Commercial doesn’t have to mean unethical, and as our regular Agency of the Month articles underline, there are many very professional agencies out there that are highly valued by their educator partners. Nevertheless, there are rogues in some markets in particular, such as India. The news that the government there might tighten up regulations for education agencies is therefore welcome news to professionals in the industry.
As I said, the basic transaction in the industry is between student and institution, but in such a diverse and multifarious industry such as ours, there are many other revenue stream potentials. Agencies are the prime example of this an industry forged on creating essential links between cultures. Another example is student services accommodation, welfare, ancillary needs such as seamless telephone coverage, access to cash (find out more in next month’s issue) and language proficiency testing are just some of the examples of associated services.
The exam testing field is innovating fast, with one exam provider launching a new academic test this year that allows designated institutions to listen in to an excerpt of a candidate’s oral test. Such a move would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but progressive technology forces a rethink of boundaries. Likewise, marketing strategies at agencies are invariably based around the Internet, although face-to-face liaison, much like at industry workshops, remains highly valued.