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Discounts as “scholarships” ruin Australia brand – AAERI report

Non-academic scholarships damage Australia’s brand, as well as the reputation of its universities and scholarships themselves, according to an independent report commissioned by the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India.

Australian providers should not dress fee discounts as scholarships, according to AAERI's report. Photo: Bhushan Sadani/UnsplashAustralian providers should not dress fee discounts as scholarships, according to AAERI's report. Photo: Bhushan Sadani/Unsplash

"Political or socio-economic events happen... it's not necessarily the agent's fault"

The report, which gauged the views of 126 education agents throughout South Asia, found a “surprising” number were frustrated by what they considered discounts passed off as scholarships, arguing the practice had negative consequences for Australian education.

“Terms such as discounts, bursaries, grants, and living allowance may be more appropriate”

“When universities offer scholarships to students who genuinely deserve [them] based on merits, then it is highly appreciated,” said AAERI president Ravi Singh.

“However, when the education providers offer discounts with the intent of recruiting more students, then the brand value of ‘Study in Australia’ downgrades and some institutions are often seen as desperate for the numbers.”

Authored by consultants John Duncan, John McPartland and John Wood, the South Asia Education Strategy Report 2020-2025 also found fee discounts as scholarships were commonplace throughout the region and devalued scholarships based on academic merit.

“In most South Asian countries, scholarships are associated with high academic performance yet there are examples of ‘scholarships’ being advertised to students to encourage early applications,” the report said.

“Terms such as discounts, bursaries, grants, and living allowance may be more appropriate.”

Released at the 2019 Australian International Education Conference in Perth, the report found many agents were frustrated by their relationship with education providers and recommended a rethink towards seeing agents as colleagues rather than just business partners.

“There are KPIs in a lot of international offices, the universities particularly, to meet targets,” Duncan said.

“There’s perhaps a bit too much emphasis on ‘where are our numbers, we need to meet our KPIs, where are our targets’, [and] issues with agents having their contracts ceased within 12 months.”

Duncan, who was recently announced as a board member of the newly formed Camino Global Education, told The PIE News agreements should have a duration of at least two to three years to allow agents the opportunity to build their market, adding blame tended to rest on agents for factors outside of their control.

“Many institutions believe offshore agents are also involved with this activity”

“If you give someone an agent agreement and all of a sudden, the roof falls out in that particular economy, or political or socio-economic events happen… it’s not necessarily the agent’s fault,” he said.

Commissioned by AAERI but undertaken independent of the organisation, the report is the first step in what it says will “safeguard” the sector from weakness and identify potential opportunities.

Among its 25 recommendations, the report argues providers and offshore agents should remain vigilant of the actions of any sub-agents with which they engage, a point AAERI urged in an advisory note from mid-2019.

AAERI must remain cognisant of the perceptions of stakeholders of poor behaviour by onshore agents, adding as agent associations grow, they must ensure members act with integrity, the report recommended.

The notion that onshore agents are the sole parties responsible for student churn – the practice of recycling students for commission – was also challenged in the report, with the authors noting providers and offshore agents were also engaged in unethical behaviours.

“Some institutions are noting that it is not only onshore but also offshore agents and at times students who may also be willing participants in ‘course hopping’,” the report said.

“If offshore agents counsel students professionally… then this may assist in reducing ‘course hopping’. AAERI’s comments, however, on the behaviour of onshore agents are not necessarily accepted by many institutions who believe offshore agents are also involved with this activity.”

South Asia, which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, contributed over 200,000 enrolments to Australia in 2018, the majority of which went into the higher education sector.

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