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Agent perspectives: application speed matters, but relationships really valued

Universities could play a more dynamic role in the admissions process by advising their agent partners on how many CAS allocations remain so agencies have a more realistic picture of whether to direct students to their institution in large numbers or not.

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One respondent pressed the need to “improve turn around times between application and admission”

This is just one of the suggestions that came from our education agent readers in a snapshot survey we undertook into the state of admissions – following feedback of extreme frustration and long waits for students to find out if they will receive offers or not.

As part of our analysis on agent perspectives, The PIE News conducted a flash survey into the challenges agents in South Asia face working with the UK.

The results reveal a unique insight into the factors affecting agent behaviour and their influence on applicants.

An overload: global race to secure university offers

A statistic that will reassure stakeholders from universities is that a combined 91.4% of agents said they process between one to five applications per student, the same number of choices the UCAS system allows applicants to submit.

However, two respondents confessed to processing more than 20 applications on average per student, presumably in a bid to try and secure an offer amid competition for places.

Average applications per student
While our agents indicated that they do not duplicate the same applications across lots of portals to get a faster offer – with 84% saying that is not a tactic they use – there was a clear trend to submit applications across multiple study destinations as students and agents consider global options.

A combined 65% of respondents said their students apply to multiple study destinations, a stark reminder that the UK sector is being compared in service levels to competitor destinations.

The pandemic has ensured students are preferring to keep their options open across a number of countries.

How many countries students apply toSpeed matters, but what agents really value is a relationship with universities

When asked how long it takes on average to get an offer from a UK university, there was wide disparity in experience. Some 41.4% said one month, 15.5% said two months – yet 19% said three weeks and 12.1% said two weeks on average.
How long does it take to get an offer from university?While these averages appear to be reasonable timeframes given the level of demand for the UK, just under 9% of agents considered their experience a fast service.

The vast majority of respondents (77.6%) considered the UK service to be ‘average’ or worse than average, scoring 3-5 on a five point scale, with 1 equalling the fastest score.

When pressed to say if agents would recommend an alternative university choice to applicants if they were waiting too long for an offer – many admitted they would, or that they have done on occasion.

Do agents encourage students to apply elsewhere?The survey generated lots of comments about improving timely admissions decisions such as “speed up the offer and give a quick ‘no’ when admission is not possible”, “expedite the admissions and CAS process” and a need for “faster fairer processes”.

One respondent pressed the need to “improve turn around times between application and admission”.

“Be more proactive and transparent about how many applications are required for which programs and which departments are no longer open for applications – so that students don’t face rejections due to lack to seats,” they requested.

When asked to name the best and worst performing universities for admissions service a significant pattern emerged. In several cases, the same institutions appeared in both categories, the good and the bad.

“Be more proactive and transparent about how many applications are required for which programs”

Personal service and priority lists were also named as effective solutions offered by partner universities, leading us to conclude that admissions experience within any institution is not consistent for each agent – and that the service you receive depends on the personal service and communication you receive from an individual rather than the institution as a whole.

Despite frustrations, the highest proportion of agents (36%) still felt highly valued by their university partners, working as an extension of their admissions and recruitment teams.

Do agents feel valued by universities?

Smaller agents find their voice in our survey

While some larger agents did contribute to the survey, it is notable that the vast majority of respondents (64%) came from smaller, boutique companies or individual counsellors that supported on average approximately 200-500 students or fewer each year to enrol in the UK.

Just under a third of those completing the survey indicated they send only 50+ students to enrol each year.

How many students do agents support each year?

Also, half of respondents reported to having less than five direct university agreements, and a further 14.5% officially represented fewer than 10 UK universities.

The number of direct contracts held with universities

Smaller agents, despite their services to students, lack clear channels of direct communication with universities. By nature they are more commercially vulnerable to market factors like deferrals, non-payment, third-party disputes, fluctuating currency or course closures because of their size.

However, it is important to remember their role as a fundamental component to how students are served in South Asia.

Our anonymous survey gave them a platform to articulate their views without moderation from a third party.

Fraud and competition is increasing

The two most resounding results related to polls on fraud and competition and if agents in South Asia are seeing an increase in these areas.

A unanimous 91.1% of agents agreed they were seeing an increase in the number of agents working in the market. They cited reasons such as “the outbound number of students is increasing” and “too many agents being appointed in the same region in order to access volume recruitment”.

Worryingly just over half said that fraud is increasing in their markets, while 30.9% said the risk of fraud is the same as always.

Nearly 90% agreed that the student counselling profession needed to be regulated in South Asia by suggestions ranging from “an independent body” , “the government” , “an institution such as the British Council” or “universities themselves”.
Should agency work be regulated?Working with third parties to access university contracts was a common feature with a 70% commission share being the common rate (43.1%). The reason for doing this was clear – 82.1% said they worked with third parties because they were unable to secure contracts directly with universities themselves.

In a reminder that the majority of university contracts are available on the open market in South Asia, 55.8% of respondents said they accessed commission via Tier 1 or master agents, while only 7.7% said they did so through online marketplaces or aggregators, as they have become known.

It is worth noting that questions relating to commercial contracts were optional due their competitive nature and therefore had a marginally smaller group of responses.

Which third parties do you work with?

Distributed to agents in our mailing list, the survey quickly generated 58 responses from agents across the region including India (70.7%), Bangladesh (15.5%), Pakistan (13.8%), Nepal (6.9%) and Sri Lanka (5.2%).

Some agents also cited having operations based in study destinations such as the UK, Australia or Canada with a focus on supporting students in South Asia.

Are you an agent working in a South Asian country to support students to apply to a UK university? Have your say in the comments below or by emailing

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