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Certified education agents being head-hunted by competitors

Study abroad counsellors who have completed the revamped British Council training program as part of the Agent Quality Framework in the UK are being head-hunted by other agencies, it has been revealed.

Over 100 UK institutions were present at the BUILA town hall session at The PIE LiveOver 100 UK institutions were present at the BUILA town hall session at The PIE Live Europe to discuss the Agent Quality Framework

"I want to see a standard across the industry"

Speaking at a town hall session hosted by the British Universities’ International Liaison Association at The PIE Live Europe conference, Julia Wang, director of international relations at Liverpool John Moores University raised the issue.

“We’ve had some feedback from some of our agents that as soon as they finish their training on the [British Council] portal they are approached to say ‘do you want to become a sub-agent or counsellor [for another company]’, which makes them feel quite uncomfortable,” said Wang.

The UK agent and counsellor training and engagement hub is a free, open source training module that certifies individual counsellors on completion.

Once an individual has completed the training they can consent to being listed as a certified agent on The British Council’s website.

Andrew Bird, head of international marketing at Bournemouth University and member of the BUILA executive committee reminded colleagues that certifying agents as individuals, not accrediting agencies as businesses, was an intentional part of the framework’s design.

Students and families can now identify individuals who have completed the necessary training and feel reassured in the support they are receiving.

However, an unintended consequence would appear to be the identification of certified staff from competitors who are trying to scale.

Sushil Sukhwani, founder and director of long-standing Indian agency Edwise International called for the training to become mandatory in order to create a level playing field for all agents who support UK institutions.

He explained that while he welcomes staff development and the UK’s efforts to improve quality assurance, staff retention is essential to both the health of his business and the service students receive.

“I cannot tell my staff to tick [for consent to be publicly listed] or not when they do the training. It’s something that they decide to do,” explained Sukhwani.

“In the way the Indian market operates, there’s such a shortage of skills and people keep hiring counsellors from other agents.

“It is becoming common that a counsellor that’s certified will now get a better job offer and leave you.

“[As a business owner] I am always in the loop of training people and losing them, training people and losing them. Enrolment in study abroad is a long process. It’s not a monthly sales cycle or a weekly sales cycle.

“We are often working on one-year sales cycles. If counsellors keeps shifting a lot, the student feels like they’re not being taken care of, so we need to have staff with us at least a year or more once we train them.”

“It is becoming common that a counsellor that’s certified will now get a better job offer”

More than half of UK universities have signed the AQF pledge in adopting a code of conduct and demanding agent partners complete the training, although implementation will take time.

Thousands of agents have either begun or completed The British Council training as a consequence.

However it is unclear how many prospective students are checking the list of certified agents as part of their due diligence when contracting an agent.

Universities UK recently announced a further review of the Agent Quality Framework to ensure it is fit for purpose.

Liverpool John Moores University has signed the AQF pledge and Wang believes that constant review is needed to overcome these types of issues.

“I think it’s a very good initiative,” she said. “It is good to have a code of practice across the sector but I think it will be better if we can take some time to consult with our agent partners as well. It must be a two-way conversation.”

Edwise was one of the agents consulted by BUILA and The British Council in the initial conception of the Agent Quality Framework.

Now it is being implemented Sukhwani feels that the natural next step is to create a ‘licence’ to operate, rather than an optional choice.

“It needs to be mandatory, that’s what I want it to be. I want to see a standard across the industry,” he said.

Jacqui Jenkins, global programme lead for international student mobility at The British Council, has commented since the event took place, saying “the public-facing database is there to ensure both UK universities and prospective international students can check that their chosen agent is certified.

“It is not, however, a tool to be used for agent recruitment. We take this issue seriously and as a result we will be removing email addresses from the public-facing database.”

Were you at the BUILA town hall at The PIE Live? What’s your view on the next steps for the AQF and how do we encourage individuals working as agents and counsellors to become certified? Have your say in the comments below or by emailing

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