September 2015 issue

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Agent training and qualifications

Students’ experiences with agencies vary widely according to our survey of international students worldwide, with agent consultation methods and the length of time spent deciding where to study differing across the board. As Bethan Norris finds out, there is no such thing as a standard consultation in the study travel agency business.

Choosing an agency is an important process, according to the 73 students who took part in our survey on their experiences with agencies, and many international students like to shop around before deciding which agency to choose. In the current digital age the internet is obviously a key tool in this decision-making process and 58 per cent of students indicated that they found out about their agency through the internet. An easy-to-navigate website is therefore an essential tool for agents with Adiba Osmani from the UK saying that she chose her agency because “the website was easy to understand”. A majority of student respondents were impressed with their agency’s website, with 40.5 per cent rating it either nine or 10 (10 being the highest rating).

Interestingly, however, just 1.5 per cent of students said that their final decision about whether to work with an agency was because they were impressed with their website. Instead, the largest proportion of students (42 per cent) chose their agency because of its good reputation or through personal recommendation. Even in an age where huge amounts of information can be found at the press of a button, the personal views of friends and family are still the deciding factor for many students when it comes to actually choosing an agency. As Yena Ku from Korea says, “I heard they were a nice agency,” when asked why she made her decision, while Karen Li from Ecuador says, “I heard they were reliable.”

How did you choose your agency?

Of course, there are often an array of factors influencing the decision making process for students and individual students listed numerous reasons for choosing which agency to use. A new reason that didn’t show up in our previous survey of students on agents (see STM, October 2012, page 34), is the online rating of an agency where students rely on the internet reviews of previous customers to make their decision (three per cent of students). Although this figure is small, internet reviews of businesses are becoming common in all industries and it is interesting that study travel is no exception. Another significant factor was the good impression received by students on their first consultation with an agency with 16 per cent of students citing this as their deciding factor. Sari Kim from Korea relates, “They were kind and worked quickly,” while Yun Te Sun from Taiwan adds, “They gave a lot of information during the consultation.”

Having the right language skills for the destination that a student wanted to study in was also important for students, with nine per cent giving this as a reason for their choice. And of course, a reasonable course price was also taken into account by nine per cent of students, often as part of a list of reasons for choosing a particular agency. Fernanda Karine dos Santos from Brazil says, “They were cheap and specialised in Ireland.”

Other reasons given by students included the fact that an agency was local to where they lived, had statistics showing the number of students who went on to university after completing a course and that the student knew someone who worked there.

How did the agency help you decide where to study?

When it came to the actual logistics of helping a student decide where to study, experiences between students varied widely. The time spent with an agent before deciding where to study ranged from between less than 24 hours (32 per cent of students) up to over three months (15 per cent). The largest group of students (34 per cent took between one and four weeks to make their decision.

This discrepancy can largely be due to whether a student has any ideas about where they want to study before they see the agent. Patrick Feller from Germany says that his interview with an agent lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, mainly because “I already knew where and when I wanted to study.” According to our survey, 29 per cent of students had no idea about which country, city or school they wanted to study in and therefore needed thorough counselling from the agent to find the best option for them. Agents helped our student respondents decide where to study in a variety of different ways. Some provided information about schools in a particular location chosen by the student, while others emphasised different aspects of the study abroad experience, such as accommodation and social life, in order to help student clients make up their minds.

Vera Fluchiger from Switzerland said of her experience, “They showed me the different options in different cities and told me about the different experiences of students studying there.” Cedric Peie from Switzerland adds that there are many aspects to agency advice. “The agent advised on money, city, accent, mentality and culture,” he says. Important aspects of advice regarding deciding where to study included cost, number of students of the same nationality at the same location, class sizes, safety and activities.

One student reports that upon the advice of their agent they changed their mind about where they wanted to study after talking through the options. Yavuz Selim Karli from Turkey says, “My first option was Canada but we talked about Canada and after that I learned that getting a visa was difficult.”

Agents were also instrumental in giving students advice about the right course for them. Nicola Schweizer from Switzerland says that she chose her agency because “it’s small and very personal where they really take time for you and consult individually”, adding that they advised her to take a course in “general English for a few weeks followed by a certificate course”. Meanwhile other students report that they were advised by their agents on the length of their course, whether to take an exam course and also to take a grade 12 course in high school as the best way to prepare for higher education overseas.

With many students wanting to go on to university or college studies overseas, agents are often required to give advice on course progression in a particular destination depending on a student’s end goals. For example, Jiyun Mun from Korea was advised by his agency to study at a school in France “because they said I can study English and French at the same time” and achieve his ambition of studying at a university.

How good was your agency?

In general, the satisfaction rate among students for their agencies was quite high with only 12.5 per cent saying that they would not recommend them to others. A further 83 per cent said that they would recommend their agency and 4.5 per cent said that they would maybe recommend it. Furthermore, 80 per cent noted they would definitely or probably use the services of an agent to book a course in the future. The majority of students found their agency to be efficient, with 52 per cent giving their agency a top score of either nine or 10 to rate their efficiency.

Some students, such as Olga Samkeeva from Russia, were glowing in their reports of the agency they used. “They were perfect,” said Olga, while others gave feedback on what could be done to improve their agency’s service to students. Comments on this topic ranged from: “They should be faster at responding to me,” given by Bogdan Bordieanu from Romania and “They should provide more pictures of the school,” from Emiliano Carazos Reyes in Mexico, to “They should provide a student community on the internet,” from Honen Jeany in Korea. Other areas that students felt could be improved were that agents should provide more arrival information for students and also be truthful about student nationality ratios at the destination school.

Prompt communication and providing accurate, detailed information were clearly important areas for agencies to get right when advising study travel students. Several student respondents felt that they hadn’t received enough information about what to expect on their study abroad trip, while others felt agent response times were somewhat lagging. Patricia Alexandra Ehrmann from Switzerland says that she wishes her study abroad agent had sent the information she needed earlier. “I got my information just a few days before I came here,” she says.

Isabel Garcia del Canto from Spain says that while it only took one week to confirm the course booking through the agency with the school, “for the host family it was very bad because I had the information three days before coming,” she says.
Communication methods used between agents and students varied considerably with 25 per cent of student respondents saying that they communicated with their agent in person, via the phone and by email. A further 19 per cent of students were in contact with their agent through face-to-face meetings and also email and a relatively high 16.5 per cent of students communicated solely by email.

What services did your agency offer?

As well as offering advice on courses, destinations and future study plans, many of the agencies used by students in our survey also offered an array of other services, including help applying for a visa (48 per cent), pre-departure orientation information (75 per cent) and a 24-hour contact number after a student arrived in their study destination (78 per cent).

Students seemed to value these add-ons and the majority appreciated being contacted by their agency within 24 hours of arriving in their study destination (58 per cent). Soomin Park from Korea says of her agent representative, “She is very kind and I always receive emails [from her].” Bogden from Romania appreciated the depth and amount of information received in the pre-departure orientation programme offered by his agency. “They offered tutorials, orientations and constant communication,” he says.

Camila Brage from Brazil also received good pre-departure information from her agency. “They explained everything to me: what I could do when I arrived at the airport, how I could arrive to the host family, how I could go to school, how it would be on my first day of school.”

However, other students were not so fortunate and felt that the pre-departure orientation offered by their agency was lacking. Adiba Osmani from the UK says, “They didn’t give me any information so I was late for my first day. I even emailed them the week before but they were late to reply.”

Other students felt that their aftercare from the agents was lacking. Ho Yan Cheung from China, who is studying on a one-year course at a school in Canada, was upset that the agency had not contacted her since her arrival in the country. “They don’t care about me since I got here,” she says.

A significant 42 per cent of students were charged a booking fee by their agency and most seemed to think the fee was reasonable for the service offered. Rates ranged from E20 (US$22) to UK£250 (US$391). Victor Gourdon from France says, “I was charged a E20 (US$22) registration fee which is not that much.”

Overall, students valued the input of an agency to deal with all the details of their study abroad experience. Yun The Sun from Taiwan says, “It was so much more easy with their help to apply to the school. Problems related to visas are hard to sort out by myself.”

Honon Jeany from Korea says that she values the online student community that her agency operates online. “The agency is very kind and the community site is so helpful,” she says.

Christoph Braschler from Switzerland adds that his agency knew their business very well and he valued their professionalism. “It’s very helpful [to use an agency] because there are so many language schools that it is very difficult to decide which one to choose.” A student from Korea points out that agents are a great intermediary. “Some parents could have trouble communicating with schools overseas.” While another student from Slovakia said they would recommend their agency to others as, “It is a safe way to book what you want without the risk.” bethan@studytravel.network

(Due to the complexity of the data, the other features in this article are only displayed in the digital issue of StudyTravel Magazine)
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The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of StudyTravel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.







Alpadia Language Schools  
Amauta Language School  
CERAN Lingua
don Quijote  
EF International Language Centers  
ELS Language Centers  
Eurolingua Institute  
International House World Organisation  
Kaplan International
Kings Education  
LAL Language Centres  
Oscars International  
Pro Linguis  
Quality English  
Sprachcaffe Language Plus 
St Giles International  
TLG - The Language Gallery  
Twin Group  

BASP - Buenos Aires Spanish School  

Ability English  
Cairns Language Centre  
English Australia  
ILSC Australia  
Impact English College  
Monash College  

Instituto Cultural IDIOMA  

Spanish World Institute  

YMCA International Language School  

Academia Tica  

Study Team Cuba  

Carlsbad International School  

ABLS - Accreditation Body for Language Services  
BEST in Bath  
Communicate School  
English Language Centre Brighton  
Experience English Group  
Heart of England Language School  
Inspiring Learning  
International House London  
Islington Centre for English  
Liverpool School of English  
Living Learning English  
Manchester Language School  
Oxford Royale Academy  
Sidmouth International School  
University of Liverpool  

Alliance Française Lyon  
Alpine French School  
Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne  
Ecole de Tersac  
France Langue  
inlingua La Rochelle  
Institut Français Riéra  
International House Nice  

BWS Germanlingua  
F+U Academy of Languages  

Atlantic Language Galway  
Donegal Language School Equestrian & Surf Centre  
Emerald Cultural Institute  
Galway Cultural Institute  
Horner School of English  
International House Dublin  
ISE - International School of English  
MEI Ireland  
University College Cork Language Centre  

Intercultural Institute of Japan  
Kai Japanese Language School  
Sakura House  
Yokohama International Education Academy  

Feltom Malta  
IELS - Institute of English Language Studies  
Magister Academy  

Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology  
English New Zealand  
University of Otago  

International House Belfast  

Paradise English  
Habla Ya Language Center  

International School of the Algarve  

Experience English Group  
Kilgraston Language and Activities School  

Bay Language Institute  
EC Cape Town  
Education South Africa  
Eurocentres Cape Town  
Good Hope Studies  
Inlingua Cape Town   
Interlink School of Languages  
International House Cape Town  
Kurus English  
LAL Cape Town  
Language Training Centre   

CLIC International House Spain  
Escuela de Idiomas Nerja  
Estudio Sampere  
Live Madrid SC School  
Malaga Instituto  

British International School Phuket - BCIS  
California Language Academy  
EF International Language Centers  
Summer Study Programs  
University of California San Diego  


Calgary Board of Education  
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board  
Eastern Townships School Board  
Edmonton Catholic Schools  
Edmonton Public Schools  
English Montreal School Board  
Golden Hills School Division #75  
Greater Essex County District School Board  
Greater Victoria School District  
Halton Catholic District School Board  
Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced  
ITTTI Vancouver  
Langley School District #35  
Louis Riel School Division  
Ottawa Carlton District School Board  
Oxford Royale Academy  
Pembina Trails School Division  
Powell River School District #47  
Simcoe County District School Board  
St James - Assiniboia School Division  
Thames Valley District School Board  
Waterloo Catholic District SB  

Chaucer College Canterbury  
Chichester College  
Oxford Royale Academy  
Queen Ethelburga s College  

Barrie School, The  
High Schools International - HSI  
Menaul School  


Hult International Business School  
Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology  
Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology  
Georgian College  
North Island College International  
St Clair College  

Bromley College of Further and Higher Education  
University of Liverpool  

University College Cork Language Centre  

University of Otago  

International School of the Algarve  
Summer Study Programs  
University of California San Diego  


Hult International Business School  


English Australia  

British Council  
Campus Living Villages  
Quality English  
Trinity College London  
Twin Group  

Homestay Technologies  

English New Zealand  


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