Matthew Knott, News Editor of StudyTravel Magazine
Opinion... from the News Editor

Periodically, we at StudyTravel Magazine come across news of a product or service that aims to 'cut out the middleman' in the study travel sector, usually completely misunderstanding what agents actually do for both students and partners.

And so it was last week, when I encountered a new venture for universities that will offer a match-making service, claiming that with the money the institutions save on commission can be channelled into reduced course fees and scholarships.


That all smacks of very wishful thinking, but the most incredulous part is that the schools would have to pay CAN$50,000 up front to be listed on the service!


Firstly, what this organisation - and others before them - has failed to acknowledge is they would become an agency, albeit different to the traditional model, and one demanding $50,000 before a student has been enrolled. Platform is the buzz word, but it doesn't alter that basic relationship of schools paying a third-party organisation in order to recruit students.


So yes, they would be an agency, but one that provides no counselling to the student, no screening of candidates, and no assistance with visa applications, an integral part of the agent's role, especially in the higher education sphere.


For example, with some UK universities sailing dangerously close to the Home Office's ten per cent visa failure threshold as it is, they would be foolish in the extreme to abandon the assistance of their agent partners in assuring they don't dip below that.


But of course they won't abandon them. Because another reality that is being ignored is a large majority of universities in the UK is working with agents, and has been for a long time. The system is entrenched and successful if you take a long-term look at the growth trajectory in international students.   


Too often, national media reporting of agents, certainly in relation to higher education, revolves around the cost, i.e. US$xxx million was spent on commission, usually with a light undertone of outrage and misguided perception that surely universities can do this themselves. If they could, they would! An office in Shanghai or Delhi is one thing, but you can't have one in every country! Partner agencies offer the ability to have an office in many countries; an office where the costs are directly aligned with the number of enrolments, as commission is a fixed cost per student.


Following this and the recently reopened debate on agents in the USA, it is perhaps time that the agency sector, and dare I say their partner institutions and destinations, make a little more noise about the value that agents bring. The 'cost' of commission needs to be flipped upside down to describe how much agents are contributing to destination economies.


And just last week we had a news story on how a well-meaning government scholarship programme failed to realise its objectives, with comments on how easily those mishaps could have been rectified by involving the study abroad experts in the shape of agents.


Some educators will comment that the cost of agents for them goes far beyond commission. Of course, indeed we detail those costs in our monthly market analysis features on the major language study destinations. But the trade-off for that is the investment and marketing that the agents conduct on the institution's behalf.


And the agency model certainly doesn't require $50,000 investment from schools before a single student enquiry is in sight!



Matthew Knott

News Editor