Working with agents
Secondary Focus
Recent research suggests a growing global secondary market. Jared Tinslay speaks to schools about their increased involvement with agents.

The secondary sector is popular within certain student markets and recent figures illustrate growth in this area. The young age of the students means that they, and their parents, often require extra support and advice in choosing the right institution. That's where study travel agents come into play.


Louise Lewis from Canterbury College in Australia sees agents as "essential to the recruitment of international students". She adds, "In Australia, only registered Migration Agents are permitted to provide migration advice so an agent who is familiar with the visa process and requirements is a vital step in the phases of enrolment." The latest year-to-date statistics for June 2017, released by Australia's Department of Education and Training, revealed that there were 20,592 international students enrolled on secondary and primary courses - marking a 12 per cent growth on June 2016 statistics.


Yet one of the biggest current markets for secondary movement is Canada, with agents citing it the most-requested destination for secondary students in ST Magazine's global agency survey (see ST Magazine, September 2017, p42). According to Bonnie McKie at the Canadian Association of Public Schools International (CAPS-I), approximately 75 per cent of all international students enrolled in Canadian public schools are referred through agencies, whilst all of CAPS-I's 133 member schools work with agencies. "Agents are vital to our association and member schools in terms of promotion of Canadian public school programmes," she comments. An example is Burnaby School District, a CAPS-I member, with Sally Stacey declaring that over 90 per cent of their applications come via agents.


In the UK, competition for agents' attention between schools and working across time zones are occasionally cited as difficulties for schools working with agencies, nevertheless that notion is quashed by Michael Atkins at Ackworth School in the UK. He feels that competition from other schools is "integral to independent education". Similarly, Louise says, "In Queensland, independent schools are very collegiate and we seem to work together to promote Queensland while promoting our own schools. As our greatest market is Asia, time zones are not too much of an issue. However, we are actively trying to recruit more Europeans to the college, and time zones are against us as far as agent training goes."


Occasionally other issues may arise, and Sally says, "It's sometimes difficult when agents insist on Burnaby accepting their student when the student doesn't meet the standards, is too old or young, or has applied too late. Also, occasionally an agent has promised something to a student or family that Burnaby can't deliver." Clearly, schools must also play their part for agent partnerships to succeed, and Bonnie says schools should provide "thorough, ongoing training to agency representatives and equip them with effective resources and promotional tools". Most issues can be avoided through good working practices between agents and schools, and Blair McDonald at Braemar College in Canada distinguishes between new and existing agents in establishing these. "Many of our long-term partner agencies have visited the campus, met our staff and students and know what we offer. For these agents, annual updates regarding pricing, new programmes and e-newsletters about recent developments are sufficient. For new ones, the key is to get them to visit our campus," he says. 


Marc Shaw at the American Heritage School in the USA, agrees that school visits are essential. "They [agents] need to be able to say they have seen our school, met our counsellors, met our housing coordinator and head of admissions. They can speak about our school with more conviction," he explains. For Tracey Pearce-Dawson at Appleby College in Canada, those visits should be reciprocal. "We make every effort to visit prospective agents' offices before entering into a relationship with them. For those agents we are currently working with, as part of our annual admissions travel schedule, we build in time to visit their offices in their home country." Meanwhile, under Australian legislation it is essential to have an agency agreement, something which Helen Karapandzic at Concordia Campus in Australia, alludes to. "All Concordia agents sign an agency agreement, which sets out the responsibilities of both the school and the agency in relation to international student enrolment and ongoing support," she says.


With political, economic and social changes ongoing worldwide, Stefanie Grech at NSTS - a language school that provides high school year placements in Malta - pinpoints agents' awareness of market changes as a vital asset. "This feedback is extremely important to us as it allows us to react to market forces and adapt current, or create new courses and services," she says. Meanwhile, Nav Rai at the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai states, "Agents are especially useful if you are trying to reach markets where there is a language barrier for the students and parents." Periodically, schools go in search of new agent partnerships, and Tracey notes agent conferences are a good port of call. "While most agents seek us out, we do leverage agent conferences in markets where we are looking to expand interest."



What defines a 'good' agent?
Our contributors are able to pinpoint a number of factors which they feel define a 'good' agent. Louise Lewis from Canterbury College in Australia says, "I define a good agent by the ease with which I work with them; their knowledge of the Australian International Student legislation and visa processing; their experience; their demands against the reasonableness of their request; their flexibility; and whether they are actively marketing our college."


For Blair McDonald from Braemar College in Canada, a low staff turnover is key. "There's nothing more disheartening than to train up the front line sales staff at an agency only to discover most have gone off to work elsewhere. The key feature is reliability. Once a trusting working posture is struck up, life becomes much easier and more productive for both parties," he explains.

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