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Agents & schools consider future partnerships

After a summer of tension between agents and English language schools over refunds for students unable to travel, companies are now looking for new ways to develop partnerships and address issues in business and commission models.

agentsCovid-19 brought the study travel sector to a standstill as students were unable or unwilling to travel. Photo: Pixabay

84% of agents said they experienced a loss in income

“Agents and schools historically have spent too much money recruiting students, whether it’s commissions, brochure contributions,” said Paul Schroeder, CEO and co-founder of Canada-based ILSC Education Group, during a PIE Live study travel panel.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to re-examine our relationships and move forward with agent-school partnerships.”

“This is an opportunity for us to re-examine our relationships and move forward”

Since the Covid-19 outbreak pandemic began, 84% of agents said they experienced a loss in income, while English language schools have been forced to lay-off staff, scale down operations and even shut completely due to a lack of students.

Some agents are now looking to redefine how they work with schools, suggesting a more active role that moves away from an “inefficient” model based on commissions.

The owner and director of 195 Training Group and 195 Global Study Abroad in Vietnam, Jack Zissler said that the way to build stronger relationships between schools and agents is “to utilise the strengths of agents”, including their marketing skills and local insights.

However, he said that this would require a move away from the commission-based payment model.

All of these things cost money, resources and the time of my team,” he explained.

“In terms of upfront payment or some marketing services whereby there’s a joint relationship, both sides [need to] have skin in the game.”

During the panel, schools were open to the idea of working more closely with agents, but there were some misgivings about how this could be implemented.

Johannes Kraus, director and founder of Kurus English in South Africa, said he “loved” the idea of sitting together and planning and strategizing with agents – “almost like a little business within the business”.

“But my concern is, do we have the time to deal with an agency like that?” he added.

Stakeholders have long argued that education recruitment has lacked innovation over the last few years and that Covid-19 presents an opportunity to try and tackle some of the sector’s issues.

The launch of new online platforms, for example, has made it easier than ever to find opportunities for collaboration, as well as offer more options to students, but some argue that it may also contribute to weakening partnerships as they don’t deviate from traditional payment models.

Zissler pointed out that on some platforms, agents can sort schools by commission and that agents “just pick one with a high commission”, leading to “no differentiation, no marketing, no relationship”.

Others, however, hope that the growth of online platforms will help the education sector as much as they have other industries.

“These big platforms helped the aviation industry to connect and have much more integrated communication,” said Max Oretega, deputy head of Mundo Joven Group in Mexico.

“We haven’t changed enough over the last 10, 15 years. It’s time for us now with a big sudden change for us to adopt technologies.”

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