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Edwin Tay, CEO EasyUni, Malaysia

CEO and Co-founder of a university search portal for Asian students, Edwin Tay gives insight on up and coming markets and what he sees is a growing trend in the region: DIY study abroad.

The PIE: What was your inspiration for launching the EasyUni portal?

"We've surpassed 100,000 unique visitors a month"

ET: We decided to come out with the portal because of personal experience actually. My niece had an experience where she couldn’t find information that compared institutions in a very systematic way so she attended education fairs and she got confused. That’s when we saw a bigger problem across Asia because there weren’t any strong portals out there that encompass the whole global education industry. So typically students find information via education fairs and newspapers.

We had the idea came to put it all on the internet so it’s available 24/7 and I think most importantly because nobody is behind you pressuring you to take their course. You can do it in your own free time and you can do a very objective study of what is best for you.

“We tell our clients that if they want American or European students don’t come to us- and they like that”

We started in 2008 and we launched the portal in December 2010. The whole idea is to help students and parents find more information about institutions all over the world.

The PIE: How many universities do you have on the platform?

ET: Right now we have close to 2,000 universities from 33 countries.

The PIE: And the dominant country is?

ET: The usual suspects, America, the UK Australia and New Zealand and a little bit from Asia.

The PIE: So universities pay to be listed on the site?

ET: Our value proposition to our clients revolves around “Asian students for Western Institution of Higher Education”. We focus very hard on Asian students, thus building capability and knowledge on how to attract, market and recruit Asian students for our clients.

In short, we provide better brand exposure– via premium listing on our network of country portals, verified leads generation, student placement, event management and social media management typically targeting Asian students.

We’re very open with our clients. We tell them that if they want American or European students don’t come to us- and they like that.

The PIE: Where in Asia do most of your users come from?

ET: Our strong countries would be Malaysia, Indonesia and India. We’re going to launch our China portal soon. And then we also do get students from the Middle East and a few from Africa.

The PIE: How do students find your site?

ET: We carry out extensive student marketing campaigns via online channels and SEO. But beyond that we have our own publication– a quarterly magazine called EasyUni Ultimate University Guide Book which is available in print and digital formats for free to download from our website or iTunes, Google Play and other ebook platforms.

The physical magazine is distributed in Malaysia and Singapore, mainly to high schools but we also distribute to colleges and universities.

The PIE: How many visitors do you have a month?

ET: Our traffic is on the upturn, we used to generate less than 100,000 unique visitors per month but right now we’ve surpassed that. It comes to about six million page views per year, two and a half million unique visitors per year.

“The reason why we wanted to do it in English is because that’s what our clients want- they want students who are able to converse and understand English”

The PIE: If most of the students are Asian, why have you chosen to produce the site in English?

ET: We have a few country portals and the majority of them are in English except for two countries- Indonesia and China. But the reason why we wanted to do it in English is because that’s what our clients want- they want students who are able to converse and understand English- they’re international programmes after all. Our second reason is because the countries our clients are in predominately right now are Anglophone so it makes sense for it to be in English.

The PIE: Asia is and has been the dominant recruitment region for a while, how do you see outbound student mobility from Asia developing in the future?

ET: Indonesia is a hotspot right now due to sheer population and it’s a very upcoming country where the middle class is growing at a very rapid rate. The government change recently has brought them a lot of good things so the economy has opened up, they are more business friendly and the level of corruption has dropped. So they have everything going for them. More and more students are able to afford to go overseas and they have a huge population- more than 200 million– so in Asia they are just behind China and India.

Malaysia has always been a mainstay. On a yearly basis we keep sending more and more students out. I think the last figure I saw was that we send out about 55,000 students.

“Indonesia is a recruitment hotspot right now due to sheer population”

Vietnam is also a growing market. They also have a huge population, 90 million and they are sending about 53,000 students or more.

The PIE: Do you think that the local universities in those countries will eventually improve enough to rival their Western counterparts?

ET: I can speak for my home country, Malaysia. We are very much into rankings right now. It wasn’t so five years ago but we realised that that’s one area that we all need to improve on because higher education is a very important economic sector for Malaysia. We see it as a business. That’s why we have a lot of private higher education institutions set up in Malaysia. We give out quite a number of licenses and the government also realises that it’s important for us to attract good brands. So you see a sudden mushrooming of international schools coming here to set up branch campuses. And all that because we want to make sure that we are competitive with all the other countries in the region in making Malaysia an education hub.

The PIE: Tell me about this growing trend of DIY study abroad.

ET: In China if you look at the growth of sending students abroad I think the golden years were from 2006 to 2009 when we saw a student explosion. That’s when the agents gained their role because typically they were the students who had studied overseas and came back with a good level of English and they used that knowledge to take Chinese students out.

The agency brings value to the students because they are able to speak English and the Chinese students typically are not strong in English but need to write a personal statement. And with that value they’re able to charge the students exorbitant fees. It created a whole economy by itself and unfortunately some agents took advantage of that.

“In China you see a trend whereby portals like us come into the picture because we provide an alternative”

Students and even the government now are keeping a close eye on that and now you see a trend whereby portals like us come into the picture because we provide an alternative. Our concept is DIY- Do It Yourself. You don’t need to rely on agents as much anymore. You can find the information yourself, we even give you tools to write your personal statement. We have other partner services that can help you with your English.

Students more and more are looking at doing it themselves and not spending that money.

The PIE: Is the DIY trend happening in any other Asian markets?

ET: Not so much because China is a very unique country. We don’t call it DIY in Malaysia but it has been around and students see it as another opportunity to find information. In Indonesia they’re also very agent-centric but good for them the agents don’t abuse that power. The level of trust between agents and students in Indonesia remains strong. That’s the same with Malaysia as well.

The PIE: What’s next for Easy Uni?

ET: When we started EasyUni we said we wanted to focus on the Asian region and our mission was always to take Asian students out to Western countries or wherever they wanted to go. And we remain true to that vision. We’re going to open up more portals in south east Asia and come out with new products and services for our paying clients. And the other flip side, which is the client side, we’d like to recruit more European or American universities.

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