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Mark Hsu, Envision Recruit, Taiwan

No. Business schools want help with brand building. We also help Cornell University’s hospitality school, which has a campus at Nangyang Technological University, Singapore – we help them with media buying, placing advertorials and creating marketing materials.

"I’d say about 40-50% probably use an agent but that’s a big decline from previous years"

The PIE: When you do these seminars for students, how do you find the students?

For the MBAs it was pretty natural because we ran probably the most successful MBA placement consultancy in Taiwan. So we were already helping students apply and we just used our database of these contacts. We also have a very strong Facebook presence, running multiple highly “liked” Facebook fan pages for language travel and prospective MBA applicants, as well as a very strong offline presence through giving free career workshops at some of the top universities in Taiwan.

The PIE: Do people still like to use an agency in Taiwan?

I think direct is the trend. If I had to bet, I’d say ten years from the now the agency industry will decline with agencies being less and less and important. That certainly has been my experience.

“If I had to bet, I’d say ten years from the now the agency industry will decline”

Our business these days is primarily derived from “high-touch” clients where we are really engaging with the students for 1-2 years, coaching them and sometimes offering tutoring services to boost their test scores so that we can position them to gain admission into top universities. We work with about 500 students a year, about 100 are enrolled in our test preparation classes domestically in Taiwan, about 30 attend undergraduate, about 300 attend graduate school and another 20 attend boarding school (high school).

In terms of student numbers, language school students comprise about 20% of our total students but the revenue generated is approximately 5% of our firm’s total revenue.

The PIE: So what proportion of students would you say go through agents versus direct booking?

My feeling is that a lot of students go through a site like ApplyESL.com, which ironically claims to be a “non agent” in their online advertisement when in fact they are also compensated on a commission basis. This is because in Taiwan there is a perception that agents are shady, so ApplyEsl.com has fairly good market penetration in Taiwan. And so I’d say about 40-50% probably use an agent but that’s a big decline from previous years.

“The market is shrinking and the nature of the demand is shifting”

The PIE: In terms of the outbound market, which countries are popular?

I think it doesn’t change. The US is number one, followed by the UK, either Canada or Australia, then New Zealand. If we factor in working holiday, then Australia would be number one for short-term travel.

The PIE: And in terms of courses?

We do mostly degrees, because people are more willing to pay a premium, so it’s a more valuable market financially. If there are any trends, it’s that the market is shrinking and the nature of the demand is shifting. While the total study abroad market is not increasing, there is a clear pick-up in demand for boarding schools or undergraduate programmes particularly among the richer families who are more inclined to invest in their children at an earlier stage in their lives.

The trend in Taiwan and elsewhere in the developed parts of Asia is that families are having fewer children. Most families now just have 1 or 2 kids, but on average the spending per child is higher.

Envision Recruit’s companies include Envision Recruit, Top Admit, EnvisionPrep and StudyWithoutBorders.

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