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Aus: student satisfaction high; agents’ influence growing

The influence of education agents is on the rise in Australia according to the 2014 International Student Survey Overview Report, which shows that a growing number of students listed education agents as the main influence on their decision of where to study in the country.

Half of 2014’s respondents said that agents were the main influence on their decision about where to study in Australia

The reputation of Australian institutions, personal safety and the quality of teaching and research were tied as the main factors that made students choose Australia over other international destinations, mentioned by 93% of students in this year’s survey.

“These results reflect extremely well on the Australian education industry”

“Australia’s reputation as a world-leader in international education is built on a commitment to delivering an education experience of the highest quality – and as this survey shows, this isn’t going unnoticed,” commented Chief Executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson.

The survey, which is conducted every two years by the Australian government, highlighted the central role education agents play in the country’s international education sector.

Half of 2014’s respondents said that agents were the main influence on their decision about where to study in Australia, up from 44% in 2012 and 28% in 2010, with parents and institutional websites listed as other major influences.

The survey also showed that satisfaction with agent services is high, with 90% of respondents saying the service they received was good (55%) or very good (35%).

The survey is based on responses from 39,558 students in higher education and 5,397 in VET, representing around a quarter of the total number of international students in their respective sectors.

Around two thirds of international students in the ELICOS sector (10,654) and half of those in the schools sector (1,225) also took part.

Results from the biannual survey come at a time when the use of agents has come under public scrutiny after a paper by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption said universities that are financially dependent on fee paying international students might be lowering academic standards to maintain steady income flows.

Some universities are using up to 300 local agents to market to and recruit students, resulting in due diligence and control challenges, the commission charged.

The ICAC paper spurred a reportage by ABC’s Four Corners that argued some agents representing top Australian universities in China had been involved in the submission of fraudulent applications.

The documentary triggered backlash from international education stakeholders who felt recruitment practices had been unfairly represented. Meanwhile the Council of International Students Australia, called for a full government inquiry to examine the issues that were raised.

“If the government is serious about increasing education as an export industry to be worth $30 billion, then it has to invest in developing a much-needed consultation with students on the ground to identify issues and work on fixing these issues sooner rather than later before it exacerbates,” commented CISA President Thomson Ch’ng.

Results from the biannual survey come at a time when the use of agents has come under public scrutiny

Still, overall student satisfaction levels remain high as the survey shows a higher proportion of students said they are satisfied in every survey category, from personal safety to course satisfaction, compared to the 2012 study.

Most notably, 82% of students in the schools sector said they were satisfied with their overall school experience – a considerable increase from 2012’s 74%.

As in the past two surveys, this year areas judged not as praiseworthy by students in both higher education and VET include work experience, career advice and employability.

VET achieved the highest satisfaction ratings for work experience and careers advice (both 78%). However, this still falls below the international benchmark of 80% for both categories.

Meanwhile, just 65% students in higher education were satisfied with their work experience opportunities, and 68% with the careers advice on offer.

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