An overwhelming 80% of the 21,702 students and parents who responded to an online survey carried out by Beijing Overseas Study Services Association for China Customers Association magazine said that reputation would be a major factor when selecting an agency to use.
Qualifications and capability of agents followed, mentioned by 59% of respondents to the multiple choice questionnaire, while just 37% cited cost.
“After seeing the results of this survey, domestic agents have realised that they need to provide a quality product”
In addition, 79% said that they must check the qualifications of study agencies before using them with two thirds saying they might check comments about a particular agency made online and fewer than 5% saying they would not take any steps at all to verify the quality of an agency.
“The urgency of customers to verify the qualifications and credibility of overseas study services intermediaries not only demonstrates the increase of customers’ self-protection awareness… but also shows the commercial reputation of most overseas study service agencies needs to be improved urgently,” the report states.
The survey also revealed that consumers are hesitant to trust even qualified agents.
Two thirds said they would only partially trust information provided by a qualified agent, believing them to be knowledgeable but motivated primarily by profit.
A further fifth said that they would place no trust in the information provided for the same reason.
However, an overwhelming 71% of respondents said they do not understand the difference between agencies with and without legal qualifications.
Consumers are also unsure of how to protect their legal rights in the event of a dispute; more than 90% expressed a strong desire to protect their legal rights, but over a third said they would not know how.
In light of the survey’s findings, BOSSA has urged stakeholders better publicise information about using reputable agents.
“For customers to obtain true overseas study services information efficiently, the enterprises of this industry should strengthen their publicity and guidance role,” it advised.
Speaking with The PIE News, Secretary General of BOSSA, Fiona Cao, said the survey has “lifted the bar” for agents.
Two thirds of respondents said they would only partially trust information provided by a qualified agent, believing them to be motivated primarily by profit
“After seeing the results of this survey, domestic agents have realised that they need to provide a quality product,” she commented. “But apart from that, they must also understand that good service is the key to survival in this industry.”
Despite consumers’ suspicion around agent credibility, the survey showed that agent use remains popular with nearly 30% of respondents saying that it would be their preferred way of applying to study overseas.
A similar number said they would prefer to apply themselves, while 25% said they would prefer a government-sponsored programme.
Overall cost was the biggest worry associated with study abroad, mentioned by 64% of survey respondents, followed by school situation (54%) and future career prospects (53%).
The cost of services provided by agents was a relatively minor worry, mentioned by just 11% of consumers.
“From this we can see that the cost of employing a domestic agency only takes up a small part of overall study abroad expenses,” commented Cao.
BOSSA has shared the results with its members as well as with the wider public.
“It is hoped in this way we can better understand the needs of the consumer and provide a better overall product and service package directly in line with those particular needs,” she said.
“Customer surveys like these set industry standards for the future.”