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Education agents are vital: British Council

Education agents are essential to the international education industry, despite the controversy that surrounds them. This is the latest positive indictment of agencies from UK cultural mission (and global language teaching operation), the British Council. In its recent paper, it also notes that the debate over the ethics of their use is becoming “detached” from the reality seen by students on the ground.

“While this gap exists, education agents will be there to fill it"

The comments are part of the Why Students Use Agents – Demand and Supply report, which surveyed 131,000 international students between 2007 and 2010 about their views on agents.

Released this month, the report airs positive and negative views gleaned from student interviews and questionnaires, but says in its conclusions, “A knowledge and information gap exists between prospective students – and importantly their fee-paying parents – and the process of overseas study… While this gap exists, education agents will be there to fill it.”

The comments will hearten agents, particularly in the US where college admissions officers are deeply divided over their use. Earlier this year, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) considered barring its members from using commission-based recruiters abroad, although it has since called for a two-year moratorium on the issue while a NACAC-appointed commission further considers the role that education agencies play in the industry.

“No matter the controversy, the fact that education agents have become a global industry is undeniable,” said Elizabeth Shepherd, Research Manager at the British Council’s Education Intelligence unit. “We must step away from the debate and understand how differently prospective students and their parents view agents, depending on where in the world they live.”

Overall, Why Students Use Agents offers an invaluable snapshot of the fragmented agent industry worldwide. East Asian students were found to be most likely to use an agent with 48% saying they had contacted or planned to contact an agent in the past, followed by African students (41%), South Asian (39%) and Latin American (30%).

East Asian students were found to be most likely to use an agent

Students from Europe, Latin America and China were said to use agents primarily for information on foreign institutions, while in India and Africa advice on obtaining a visa was most important. The report also identified a growing need across the group for help with visas and applications, reflecting the tightening of immigration policies in the UK, US and Australia over the past few years.

The report also found that those who had studied at university overseas in the past were less likely to use agents than those who studied overseas at a lower levels – for example on English language courses.

International students were also more likely to use the services of an agency when seeking specialist courses such as veterinary science, or popular subjects such as business and administration.

Dr Janet Ilieva, Director of Research for Education Intelligence said: “In the UK the British Council encourages the use of agents amongst UK education providers and aims to develop a wider acceptance and understanding of the role and value of agents in student recruitment.”

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