The hub will represent every level of UK education and includes information on what international students will need to study at English language schools, independent schools, colleges or higher education providers.
The initiative has been introduced as the UK sector seeks to strengthen its relationship with agents and counsellors.
In 2021, analysis by BUILA and UKCISA recommended the introduction of a Ethical Practice code, a good practice guide and a new training scheme.
At the time, research found that, although widespread good practice was already ensuring quality experiences for many, “opportunities for greater transparency” existed to enhance the agent-provider relationship further.
The newly-revealed hub aims to be a one-stop-shop, providing resources to support agents including tools such as a ‘Good Practice Guide for Agents and Counsellors’, and allowing them to become certified on the hub.
Jacqui Jenkins, global program lead for international students at the British Council said, “Education advisers that are new to the industry can take their time to work through the content, while those that are more experienced can jump straight to the assessment and quickly get certified.”
For agents and counsellors with no experience, it is estimated that there is 17 hours of content available to study. The pass mark to complete the training is 97%, and if agents or counsellors fail, they can redo the training but a different set of questions will be given each time.
“We hope that the hub will empower agents and counsellors working with prospective students and provide a better international experience,” added Jenkins.
The hub will also include an events calendar for webinars and in-person events, as well as announcements and updates from the UK government and UK sector bodies. Furthermore, agents will be able to send feedback to the UK education sector through available channels.
According to Jenkins, optional modules may be added to the training in future for different study destinations within the UK or for different types of institutions.
Bobby Mehta, chair of the BUILA, said, “We are really pleased that the British Council has launched this important facility which is a pivotal tool in the UK’s Agent Quality Framework, sitting alongside the Code of Ethical Practice, Best Practice Guides for Agents, Education Institutions and very importantly, tips to help students select agents.
“It underpins the close partnership we have with agents and counsellors”
“It underpins the close partnership we have with agents and counsellors to maintain quality and sustain our international recruitment,” he added.
Mehta highlighted the importance of continuously improving standards, and said that that agents are “often an extension of the university, expansion of the UK offering overseas, and often the element of the sector which is the most misunderstood”.
According to the BUILA, over 50% of new international students in 2018/19 came to the UK via agents.
As well as the training tools, the new hub offers international students and their parents the ability to check if their agent has the right level of knowledge via a public-facing searchable database of certified agents.
Jenkins highlighted that the platform is not designed to assist students to find specific agents, but instead a tool to check if an agent is certified. The hub also provides a guide for international students, containing advice on what to look out for when selecting an agent.
It is hoped that as many as 20,000 certified individual agents and counsellors will eventually be trackable on the database.
Developers hope the initiative will assure prospective students that agents are trained best to support them.
“It gives us some power and confidence in making our own decisions,” Diana Catana, an international student from Romania, studying a PhD in biophysics at Kings College London, said at the press meeting.
Certified agents and counsellors will not be regulated further by the British Council once training has been complete. However, they will appear on the database for two years, when they will then be encouraged to redo the training in order to have their name remain on the platform, although the other hub features are accessible indefinitely.
“BUILA will champion this agenda as we go forward”
British Council has set aside £50,000 to continuously update the training.
“I don’t think this is the end of the journey because it is continuously evolving,” Mehta added. “There’s more work that needs to be done and we will continue to do this, working with colleagues and working very closely with the British Council, BUILA will champion this agenda as we go forward.”
Initial feedback from stakeholders suggest that the initiative is very welcome.
Mark Pettitt, founder at consulting firm Edified which carried out initial research for the project, said that this was a “career highlight” for many of the Edified team.
“It’s particularly satisfying to see that new approach launched today will have an immediate positive impact on students, agents and education providers alike,” said Pettitt.
“By creating a positive, student-first framework that encourages good practice, rather than legislating against bad practice, the UK has put itself in a world leading position when it comes to agent engagement.”
Delyth Chambers, Council of British International Schools, said the hub will be “very helpful” and that she will be encouraging counsellors to complete the training.
According to Adam-Lucas Pettit, director of partnerships at AECC Global, the training will be a mandatory part of all its counsellors’ training.
“It’s going to be the foundation which we’ll then build on with our own personal training,” he added.
“In addition, the good practice guide will be instrumental in setting out best practice and ensuring UK higher education is well represented and students are supported,” added Pettit in a LinkedIn post.
“Ethical, student-centred practice, objective advice and guidance come as standard for most agents but the agent quality framework tools helpfully suggests ways agents can demonstrate that they act in the interest of students.”