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China edges towards first agent association

The Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA) – China’s largest association for small study abroad agencies – has launched the national alliance COSSA, which it hopes will become the first ever national agency association in China.

China’s agency market comprises a few big agency chains and many smaller fish, but has no unified voice.

Vice president Xuewen E told The PIE News that national coordination was needed as smaller agencies faced growing competition from bigger chains. Government proposals to regulate the sector also pose new opportunities and threats.

Xuewen E, vice president of BOSSA and the newly formed COSSA

“The idea of forming this alliance is to help those local agencies get a share in the national market and survive,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to form a national association. But this alliance, even though its a loose arrangement, will establish a platform for people to come together.”

“We want to establish a harmony between smaller and bigger agencies so that everyone will get a share”

China’s large and fragmented agency market comprises a handful of big agency chains and many smaller fish, but has no unified voice.

Xuewen said COSSA members, which so far include 25 agencies from outside Beijing plus his association’s 60 members, would benefit from BOSSA’s resources. These include study abroad agreements with neighbouring countries such as Japan and Korea, and leverage with the Chinese government.

The idea is driven by growing competition in the sector and criticism of smaller operators for unethical practices. “Many of the smaller operators offer lower prices but don’t have the level of service or resources to compete with bigger chains,” Xuewen said.

Proposed government regulation for the sector, unveiled in November but yet to become law, is also a factor. Smaller agents would be required to hold $80,000 in tuition protection funds among other measures; however, they could also benefit as agency chains are made to pay more in local taxes for their franchises.

“The new regulations could see local governments deny applications from bigger companies to operate in their province,” Xuewen added but conceded this would probably vary from province to province.

“The new regulations could also see local governments deny applications from bigger companies”

Another plus is that local agent associations, akin to BOSSA, will be formed by the government in every province under the rules. An official national association is also on the cards which COSSA is keen to help shape, says Xuewen.

COSSA plans to attract more members this year and hopes to hold its inaugural convention in Malaysia in March. If the initiative grows, it could help smaller Chinese agents – who are behind a large proportion of the 340,000 Chinese that enrol overseas each year – improve their profile internationally.

“We want to establish a harmony between smaller and bigger agencies so that everyone will get a share in this market on the basis of fairness and collaboration,” Xuewen said.

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5 Responses to China edges towards first agent association

  1. It’s great that the government is finally playing an active role in regulation of these agencies. Even minor regulations and standard codes of conduct that are put out, end up changing the ways businesses operate in a big way. It’s also good to see them implement control at a province level as well.

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