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Agent quality framework set to be a “game changer” for UK sector

A framework developed by joint working group for which planning has been underway since 2021, along with agent-facing investment from the British Council, could be a “game changer” for the UK’s agency workings, according to panellists at Flywire and WPM’s inaugural joint conference.

BUILA Chair Bobby Mehta presents the Agent Quality Framework at the summit in London. Photo: The PIE News

The framework proposes an ethical code, training, agent databases and soft regulation across the board

The Agent Quality Framework, based on research done by BUILA and UKCISA, was presented to delegates during the International Student Agents Summit in London on May 25, by BUILA chair Bobby Mehta, and is now live on the BUILA website – with more news to come as the year progresses.

The framework proposes an ethical code, training, agent databases and soft regulation across the board, revamping the UK sector’s approach to agents entirely.

“Every institution works with agents in different ways, but this framework gives you the flexibility to use it as a reference point, but in a way that allows you to have a standard approach giving government bodies reassurance,” Mehta said.

“We know that agents are absolutely huge influencers in recruitment and absolutely integral to the ecosystem”

Within the work being done by BUILA and UKCISA to build this framework, the British Council is taking the driving street on the agent training, as well as upcoming communication portals.

“We know that agents are absolutely huge influencers in recruitment and absolutely integral to the ecosystem; and before this we haven’t invested any money in agents,” said Jacqui Jenkins, global relationship manager for education at the British Council in the panel following Mehta’s keynote.

“All our training was previously done through the commercial arm, so we’ll be investing in the space, making agent training free, and reforming the content of the agent training in response to the feedback from BUILA and UKCISA,” she continued.

That feedback – the previous research done in 2021 – was just the first steps, as Mehta reiterated during the conference.

“We’ve got something the DofE, the Home Office is supportive of – they like what we’ve produced… this is a benchmark against competitor destinations. But now we have to make sure universities are working towards it,” said Mehta.

In June, promotion of this code will begin, and include workshops for agents, as well as step-by-step guide for students when it comes to using agents.

“It’s important to note our training only recognises knowledge and awareness – it’s not an accreditation as such – therefore we’ll be providing a badge for agents and counsellors which recognises their knowledge,” Jenkins told The PIE News.

“We will also be publishing a searchable list of agents that have completed the training, so if a prospective student wants to check to see if their agent is trained they can search the database,” she added.

Beyond the training, the British Council will also be setting up an agents’ engagement platform.

“My hunch is this framework is a total game changer for all agents, and sub agents alike – IDP has even expressed interest in getting their agents onto it,” Jenkins said on the panel.

“We are going to set up focus groups with big agencies and aggregators to make sure what we do works at the institutional level”

In some countries, IDP has already contacted representatives wanting to know “when their agents can enrol on the training” – but the preparation doesn’t stop.

While the framework is live, and with it the British Council’s free courses, there are still a few aspects that those involved wish to work out – especially gauging demand.

“We have a soft target of 30,000 education agents and school and college counsellors to be trained and assessed this year,” Jenkins told The PIE.

In the panel, however she mentioned that they are still assessing what demand could be – as it could hit anywhere between that 30,000 figure and even 50,000.

“We are going to set up focus groups with big agencies and aggregators to make sure what we do works at the institutional level too,” Jenkins added, showing that each detail is being thought out before a hard launch of the framework and training.

The quest, ultimately, is to bring the UK’s assessment of agents, and knowledge for them – and about them – to the fore, especially in a world that harbours so much competition when it comes to agents.

“What we will see, I think, is that it becomes self-regulating and relatively easy”

“If you look at the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand; they all have different approaches to regulation and accrediting agents – the UK doesn’t have that,” Mehta said.

He also pointed out that, through implementing the framework, working with the likes of the British Council and continuing to amplify the way that institutions need to work with agents and vice-versa, it will be become like a well-oiled machine.

“What we will see, I think, is that it becomes self-regulating and relatively easy – because that’s the pathway we’re creating,” he declared.

Jenkins said that the British Council plans on doing much more to “influence the influencers” – so as to keep the UK’s reputation climbing as a top study destination.

“In the corporate world, you might say we are moving from a b2c to a b2b organisation when it comes to how we work with prospective international students – and we will be doing more to improve the student experience,” she added.

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