Shi Yi: We started to work as OriginSight with a number of different universities to develop their market operation in China in 2010. We have been working closely and successfully in China with a number of universities and colleges from the UK and Australia.
Superlink is our more recent development, a [mobile] platform that will help more institutions to engage in the highly competitive China education market.
The PIE: What was the idea behind Superlink?
SY: The idea of Superlink came from our experience working with different institutions over the last two decades in China. We understand that the market has become more competitive. All the institutions are facing increasing challenges.
Number one is that the market in China is too big for any institution to manage effectively or efficiently because it is not possible for anybody to visit such a large market on a frequent basis.
The recruitment market has become much more competitive and the agent network has also become a lot more sophisticated. Simply working with a number of agencies doesn’t actually solve the recruitment problem for institutions.
The third challenge is the way students and agents get information, to receive information has totally changed. Nowadays, students are more interested in information from social media.
“Mobile technology is just dominating in China at the moment. It is applied in almost every aspect of daily life”
The PIE: What has the uptake been like from both universities and from agents in China?
SY: We have over 1,700 agent consulates who have downloaded and registered to use the app. Within just a year of the launch of Superlink, this is already covering a big chunk of the agent market.
The PIE: You mentioned one of the challenges was getting information. What kind of information is sent on the app?
SY: The basis of the information is university profiles. There is a multimedia profile which covers university images and also video content. So there is a very dynamic profile of every institution.
You can find all the education programs that a university offers to its international students on this app. It is actually a very comprehensive database, you can find the level of program or which subject area the student is interested in. [This] covers information like the core units, the entry requirements, the level of fees and also the career development prospects after studying this program.
But also there is an online training function for counsellors. Instead of having to visit the hundreds of agent offices in China one by one, universities can now offer an online training course. Agents who complete the training courses and pass the assessment will be awarded a certificate by the university.
The PIE: How does this training help agents?
SY: In the past, universities would visit two or three times a year, they would visit a few agent offices. Every time they would expect an agent to actually sit in a room and take part in the training courses.
According to our statistics, many agents chose to do the online training in the evening, when they don’t have to meet with their customers. This is a much more convenient time for them.
“They no longer require recruitment agencies to have a license to operate. This is really a new era for the recruitment business in China”
The PIE: Can you describe the mobile technology landscape in China?
SY: Mobile technology is just dominating in China at the moment. It is applied in almost every aspect of daily life. For example, in terms of payment. A lot of people no longer carry their wallets with them because everything can be paid for with a mobile phone.
The PIE: Is this why you partnered with China Union Pay? What do you hope to do with this?
SY: One of the major requirements is to find effective solutions to the payment of fees. Right now in China, because of the local regulations, it is not very convenient for students to make overseas payments, especially large amounts of foreign currency to institutions abroad. Universities also find it quite time consuming to collect payment one by one.
To solve that problem, Superlink has started to work with China Union Pay which is the authoritative online payment regulation in China. This means in the future students will be able to make tuition fee payments on their own mobile phone.
The PIE: Why has the agency market expanded so much in recent years?
SY: Actually the education agency business in China has evolved greatly since the beginning of the late 1990s, when the Ministry of Education awarded the first batch of licenses to education agents to operate in the China market.
But as more Chinese students chose to study abroad, the business has developed rapidly. There were hundreds of licensed recruitment agencies and some of them were national agencies with large operations.
“The market will only get more and more competitive, both for universities and for agents”
The PIE: Is that still the reason for growth?
SY: Since last year, the government is not issuing any further licenses. They no longer require recruitment agencies to have a license to operate. The government has opened the door for many new or small agents to join the competition. This is really a new era for the recruitment business in China.
The government license system had enabled a fixed number of agents to develop their agencies properly and to provide a trustworthy agency to a growing number of students from China.
The word ‘trust’ has always been a key word in the recruitment sector.
The PIE: How does that play into the trust, now that they don’t require a license?
SY: Because of the scale of the business, it is becoming an increasing challenge to find a trustworthy counsellors. The trustworthiness of the individual who provides the service [is now key].
Superlink can build this trust between students and agents. We believe that only by universities directly recognising the professionalism of the agents can they help develop the agents in their career.
The agency and the individual agent will be able to show their students that they’ve got sufficient knowledge and experience about the university that they’re introducing to the student.
The PIE: How do you see the market developing in the next few years?
SY: The market will only get more and more competitive, both for universities and for agents. Students can now access a lot more information than 10 years ago so they’ve already got a good level of information about any institutions that they are interested in.
Mobile lifestyle is the future. How to apply mobile technology effectively in the practice of university marketing? That will effectively determine which university will be more successful in China market in the future.