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Australia: 75% of all int’l enrolments via agencies, report reveals

The proportion of Australian enrolments handled by education agents hit a five-year high for almost all sectors off the back of new and emerging markets, according to a new report from the Department of Education and Training.

Less than two per cent of complaints to the overseas students ombudsman are about agencies. Photo: The PIE

While China and India had the most agencies, they had the lowest proportion of agent involvement

Released at the Australian International Education Conference in Perth, the report showed 75% of all international enrolments into Australia involved an education agent, with sector variances ranging from 49% for non-award and 86% for English language schools (Elicos).

“Enrolments grew by 35%, but we’ve seen the number of agencies grow by 27%”

The report is the first public release of agency performance data based on information logged within PRISMS, the Provider Registration and International Student Management System, which logs international students enrolments, outlined in 2017 and looks to provide transparency for education providers.

“Education agents were involved 75% of overseas students enrolments last year, so it is more important than ever to ensure quality practices are followed,” education minister Dan Tehan said.

“This report will ensure greater transparency and integrity in higher education because providers will have access to information about the top-performing agents who are delivering a service that meets our industry’s high standards and values.”

According to the figures, Australian providers engaged with almost 6,900 active agencies and over 19,400 agents around the world in 2018.

While China and India had the largest number of individual agencies, new and emerging markets represented the highest proportion of agent involvement in the enrolment process, pushing up the average.

“China, India, and Nepal are big markets, so providers want to have more agents, particularly with diverse regions,” said Travis Power, DET’s branch manager quality frameworks.

“[But] many of the more established countries have a lower use of agents, and more emerging markets such as Brazil, Colombia and Nepal have a larger proportion of enrolments facilitated by agents.”

Both India and China had agent usage below the global average at 72% and 73% respectively, compared to as high as 92% for Brazil, which came in as Australia’s fourth largest source of international students in 2018.

“It is more important than ever to ensure quality practices are followed”

According to the figures, agencies that dealt with smaller numbers of students had slightly higher rates of visa refusals and incompletion rates of students, however, Power noted individual students had a more significant weighting in that sample size.

The figures also reveal the high proportion of new agencies, with 24% of those within PRISMS operating for a year or less, compared to 15% above eight years.

“We’ve seen pretty steady numbers in terms of the large agencies, but pretty substantial growth in terms of the small and medium-sized agencies,” Power said.

“In part, this reflects the growth in student enrolments, we’ve seen over this same period enrolments grow by 35%, but we’ve seen the number of agencies grow by 27%.”

Power added the number of new agencies was likely reflective of a high turnover rate, in addition to the growth within student numbers.

Similarly, the majority of the market was represented by smaller agencies – those that enrolled fewer than ten students per year – but larger agencies the most substantial proportion of students assisted.

“Providers will have access to information about the top-performing agents”

“In 2018, small agencies, with less than ten enrolments, made up 52% of the total number of agencies but accounted for around 2% of the total number of enrolments,” Power said.

“On the other end of the spectrum, the larger agencies made up 3.5% [and] accounted for almost 70% of enrolments.”

A new data tool for providers to look into individual agencies with whom they have a contract was also launched, and DET director systems and compliance Ben Houston said the information would be made available to regulators as part of their accreditation process.

“[They] are developing a process to say ‘hey provider, we notice you’re working with someone who has terrible visa outcomes, terrible student outcomes, what’s going?’,” he told delegates.

The move falls in line with changes to the National Code in 2018 which put further responsibilities on education providers to monitor agent behaviour.

While full agency data is not planned to be released due to market sensitivities, Houston added plans were underway to make performance data for individual agencies available to students.

In 2016, the Australian Universities International Directors’ Forum concluded 74% of international universities students used an education agent.

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