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Xuewen E, BOSSA agency association, China

The Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA) is China’s largest agency association, representing 69 of China’s 419 state-endorsed agencies. Xuewen E, Executive Vice President, talks to The PIE about the evolving agency market there.

The PIE: How was BOSSA established?

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"I wouldn’t say all the students have found the university programme of their first choice"

XE: BOSSA was established by agencies who were government registered and operating in the Beijing area. Currently we have a membership of about 69 (all are agencies bar one which is a commercial bank). We are the biggest agent association in China, and the only independent association of this nature in China.

The PIE: How do you help your members?

XE: We promote and advocate for them on our website and through other channels. We work jointly to give suggestions and advice to the government for policy making which might favour our members. We also organise international events and provide a newsletter for members. These resources are free of charge.

The PIE: How are education agents viewed in China? 

XE: There has been some scepticism and criticism against agencies for poor or illegal practice. But since 2000, the Chinese government has started to license agencies, so only those officially registered have the legal status to run their business. Those which have not been licensed or certified get the criticism from the public. However, once agencies are registered with BOSSA, we put them on a list which is published in the media and on our website so students can find a reputable, legal agent.

“It’s good news for those licensed, not such good news for newcomers who have to subcontract”

There are only 419 government licensed agencies in total across China – so there are many more illegal agencies than legal ones. Also foreign universities have representatives recruiting in China, which is strictly speaking illegal because they are also not registered. One problem is that the government is reluctant to give more licences to agents because they think the number is good enough to handle the market. It’s good news for those licensed, not such good news for newcomers who have to subcontract with license holders.

The PIE: Are you trying to get more licensed agencies to join BOSSA?

XE: We want to extend out membership to agents registered outside Beijing because in many cities, even though they have agents, they do not have the kind of resources and contacts we have here. So many students choose to come to Beijing for help. But the regional governments don’t like this, they want to keep the business there. But if we can have them join with our organisation we can share the resources, and parents won’t have to travel long distances to Beijing. They can get same quality of service across China.

The PIE: What other challenges does China face with study abroad at the moment, if any?

XE: Well, even though the numbers are growing, I wouldn’t say all the students have found the university programme of their first choice. This is because, to speak frankly, most students study abroad with the help of agents. Only 20% do it by themselves. Maybe another 10% go through university exchange or scholarship schemes. If a student chooses to go to a university which doesn’t give a high commission then many agents may send them somewhere where they can make more money.

“We would like to see certification of agencies, or certification of consultancy staff based on the specific area they are working in”

That’s bad practice and should be stopped. Unfortunately, our organisation doesn’t have the authority to go out and check on those illegal agencies and stop them, we only monitor our own agents.

The PIE: How could BOSSA reduce agent fraud in China?

XE: It’s a tough, tough task! First we try to strengthen agent standards. Second we would like to see certification of agencies, or certification of consultancy staff based on the specific area they are working in. For example, if you want to work with the USA, then you would need to go through a certain evaluation procedure to make sure you’re qualified. [more>>]

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