Conducted between August 2018 and April 2019 with data collection through desk research, social media screening and mystery shopping, the research tracked 1,199 agencies that fit the criteria and were reachable and open for cooperation.
The research depicted a fast-changing market, with 49% of the agencies reviewed founded since 2012.
“More than 70% of the agent market is currently populated by small, one-office agencies”
It tracked the agencies’ year of foundation, the location of their offices and their portfolio, according to the countries and the education sectors promoted on the agents’ websites.
Dividing the agencies into three broad categories according to the number of offices held across China, it found that the large majority of the market is taken up by small, one-office agencies, although the big players, mostly located in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, still hold the biggest chunk of the market share in terms of student sent abroad.
“More than 70% of the agency market is currently populated by small, one-office agencies. This has been the main change and it’s likely to continue,” Bonard COO Igor Skibickij told The PIE News.
“Since the deregulation in 2017, it is very easy to establish a study abroad agency because no deposit and no specialised ministry of education licence are required.”
Although this means more competition for agents, the situation offers some opportunity for providers, he explained.
Providers can strategise their partnership efforts: while forming a partnership with a major agent can be a difficult process but can result in higher numbers of students, small and new agents are more open but an extensive network is required to match the volume.
“Try to go to those 70 Tier 3 cities, or 40 New Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities that we featured in our research, meet and partner with agents and form an extensive network – if you are able to sustain such a pool of agencies you will see a decent number of students,” Skibickij said.
“If you decide to develop a partnership with a big agency such as New Oriental – if you have a strong value proposition or you are a high-ranking institution, and you make it work – then you suddenly can compensate for lack of extensive partnerships in China and, say, only two-three strategic deals could be enough.”
“But this is an entirely different approach,” he said.
In terms of portfolio, the research found that the majority of agents promote higher education provides, but study tours are still a very popular product, although not many agents specialise in promoting it.
As for the countries, US, UK, Australia and Canada are the destinations promoted by most of the agents, with Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore following.
“Canada has the most market share to gain and they have been capitalising the most on the recent developments”
But looking at the four most popular destinations only, the percentage of agents not promoting partners from Canada is double that of agents not promoting the US.
Asked if this finding meant Canada has the biggest opportunity to grow in China, Skibickij agreed.
“Canada has a sizeable market share to gain and they have been capitalising the most on the recent developments,” he said.
“Other trends have started to affect the student flows, such as how welcoming the country is, how China-friendly they are, how much they assist students with post-study opportunities.
“This is changing the flows of mobility and Canada is gaining at the expense of the US and to some extent the UK.”
The research aims to fill a data gap in the agent market in China.
“There is no country-wide register of agencies that institutions can use. That’s where new educators, who find it difficult to partner with big agencies, but don’t know where to find the new ones, may find a challenge,” Skibickij explained.
“Perhaps it will change. Currently, agency associations in China are in their early attempts to create some standardised agency resources for educators, but this is in very early stages, maybe it will take years.
“With our recently updated country-wide agency data, Bonard is considering being part of such combined initiatives,” he added.