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Liza Manoussis, Global Education, South Africa

When Liza Manoussis founded Global Education in 2006, counselling students on study abroad was a passion and not just a job. Ten years on, she tells The PIE about what students from South Africa and Zimbabwe look for in an education overseas and how student advising has changed in the last decade.

The PIE: How did you get involved in the industry?

"That email that comes from a student I have assisted to say, 'Thanks, you have made my dream come true'. This is what makes me tick"

LM: After working in a school for 11 years and working part time in an agency that sent over 200 students per semester, I fell in love with the international education industry.

The PIE: So you were born in Sudan, but you were living in Zimbabwe? And just for the record, your mum is Greek?

LM: I personally have an incredibly international background! A father born in Russia and a mother born in Sudan and both parents are of Greek origin. My parents met and married and gave birth to me in Khartoum. Unfortunately, as soon as I was born, my parents had to leave Sudan and were forced to move back to Athens, Greece. Both parents pined for the life they had in Sudan and made an application to immigrate to Zimbabwe as my father was in the textile industry. After arriving in Zimbabwe, both parents hated what they arrived to in a place called Hartley in Zimbabwe but were too embarrassed to ask their employer to send them back to Greece and as such made a life in Zimbabwe.

“No amount of money can give me the satisfaction that students’ emails or comments do. No one in my agency knows what commission structures or bonuses we receive”

The PIE: What is it that you love about international education?

LM: Changing somebody’s life and making a dream a reality. That email that comes from a student I have assisted to say, “Thanks, you have made my dream come true”. This is what makes me tick! Or, “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be where I am today”. No amount of money can give me the satisfaction that those emails or comments do. No one in my agency knows what commission structures or bonuses we receive. The student who will sit in front of me or send me an email that says he’s become a scientist in Melbourne and done cutting edge research on cancer.

Or a 77-year-old man who was forced to retire but had a young mind, studied as a student and then became a lecturer at the university he studied at, sends me an email saying “If it wasn’t for you and your persistence and giving me the courage to do this, I wouldn’t have done it”.

The PIE: How did you set up your own company?

LM: After working for an agency in Harare for five years I decided to leave. My brother insisted that being a counsellor for international education was my calling in life and that he would assist me in setting up my agency. I felt too loyal to my boss to open an agency in Harare as she was my good friend first before she was my boss and as such I moved to South Africa, to embark on my own business in recruiting students, leaving my two sons writing O and A Levels in Harare to commute each month to and from Johannesburg.

After much personal turmoil, a failed marriage, the loss of my beautiful, precious mother, caring for a sick father who had suffered a brain tumour and very little money, I continued to work hard, totally committed to 16 hours days, without a break and constant prayer and perseverance. Against all odds, Global continues to grow and I know this is God’s journey for my family and I.

The PIE: So through that whole time, you carried on working?

LM: Yes of course, through out all this turmoil and after one crisis after another crisis I continue to grow. I came out stronger and wiser than before. This is because my work is a passion and a hobby and not just a job.

“Nothing has really changed! Parents, employers, everyone still values education”

The PIE: When did you start your agency?

LM: 2006, and it’s our 10th anniversary this year.

The PIE: What have you seen change?

LM: Nothing has really changed! Parents, employers, everyone still values education. Everyone wants good, genuine advice; you can go on to social media or the internet, but word of mouth is your biggest advert. Global Education is known to give a good service and the best possible advice and nothing has changed since.

The PIE: So it’s all referrals and reputation?

LM: Of course, it is most definitely about referrals, reputation and putting the students’ needs at the forefront of the whole process.

The PIE: Do you feel that you can only really counsel well when you’ve been to the partner schools or not?

LM: Absolutely, once you have seen the facilities, the campus, spoken to lecturers and students on campus, you can counsel with conviction. Trusting and managing people has been my hardest challenge.

The PIE: In terms of the South African market, do you think there’s a lot more growth to come there?

“Students in Zimbabwe want to study in a country that offers a post study work option”

LM: South Africa is exploding with interest for international education. Unfortunately, the South African education system is falling apart. Although there is an independent schooling system called the IEB, Independent Education Board, which is of a very high standard, few recognise the difference and as such have been branded with a poor education system, which is not quite true.

Also, the biggest problem in South Africa is that there are nowhere near enough places in local universities to accommodate the amount of school leavers, and because of this more and more students are looking to be educated abroad.

The PIE: Do you still have a market in Zimbabwe too? What about destinations, where do students want to study?

LM: Our Zimbabwe office is extremely busy. Students thirst for honest, professional advice and students in Zimbabwe want to study in a country that offers a post study work option. The UK was the most popular destination but that has changed, and Canada and Australia are the most popular destinations at the moment.

In Zimbabwe students value the UK, because they’ve had the Cambridge system. In South Africa, the number one education destination is the US, but students are opening up more to Australia and Canada because of the post-study immigration reasons.

The PIE: For a good agency that’s the only way to prosper, right?

“I never want to be the agent that sends 1,000 students, I want to be the agent that students talk about, that really cares”

LM: Without a doubt! I never want to be the agent that sends 1,000 students, I want to be the agent that students talk about, that really cares. We received two awards for the best agent in Africa, one for being the best agent sending students to Canada for Navitas. We also were the best performing agent for INTO Africa for 2014. I am proud of what I have achieved and couldn’t have don’t this without the support and love I received from my family and my incredibly dedicated staff.

The PIE: Would you ever turn students away? If you thought they were maybe not genuine students or didn’t want to study?

LM: We have turned many students away. We sign a declaration on behalf of the university to say we have scrutinised students’ finances and travel history. When I put my signature on these documents, it’s very important that we’ve done the checks on that student. We have a saying in Greek that it’s better to lose your eye than your name, and I live by that. That’s who I am.

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