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AQF pledge has helped shine a light on sub-agency use, say stakeholders

Universities in the UK have discussed how signing up to the AQF pledge has helped throw clear focus on agency operations and if sub-agents might form part of the agency's network.

Nearly half of those polled during an IHEF panel said they were actively appraising all agent contracts. Photo: aecc

  • Universities are required to ask agent partners for a list of sub-agents as part of AQF pledge
  • aecc confirms they only use their sub-agents to recruit with written permission of their partners
  • Better internal buy-in into partnership with agencies such as finance departments, say universities

By signing up to the AQF pledge, UK universities have shared that it has helped build transparency around agency operations and build internal support for business processes with agents.

At a panel during IHEF, nearly half of those institutions polled in the room said they were actively appraising all agent contracts in light of the AQF pledge.

Nearly all universities in the UK have now signed up, as a result of an initiative spearheaded by British Council, BUILA, UUKi and UKCISA.

This requires them to review their agent partners and seek confirmation on aspects of business practice such as if they have a written complaints procedure, and if they can list their sub-agency network if this is also used to recruit to their institution.

Adam Lucas Pettit, director of partnerships at aecc, also spoke about the benefit of AQF from an education agency business perspective, explaining that counsellors working for the company were really keen to become AQF-certified.

“AQF now forms part of our onboarding process,” he shared.

The Agent Quality Framework engaged with agency businesses such as aecc and Edvoy in developing the national effort to enhance ethical student recruitment and better serve international students.

Laura Mitford from Newcastle University underlined that with 125 agency partners, it was a significant task to undertake but that any agency which did not engage with AQF scrutiny would raise questions.

The panel shared that it could typical to have a member of staff focused on agency contracts and compliance – but nonetheless the workload was not insignificant.

Bobby Mehta from University of Portsmouth shared that his institution has 400 agency partners and also works with Navitas, which has its own agency network recruiting directly to University of Portsmouth programs.

"AQF brings a degree of transparency to who the sub-agents are"

Bobby Mehta

But in two years, they had terminated just two contracts, he shared.

“[AQF] brings a degree of transparency to who the sub-agents [are],” said Mehta. “That’s something that wasn’t necessarily part of anyone’s processes before.”

“There were some universities that did have a very good understanding of how that agent operated but often not asking, who are the sub-agents?”

Mitford echoed Mehta’s observations. She explained that the new process “has really made us question the business models of individual agents to really understand the operating model, the way they operate, how they work. Where is the master contracted agent, and if they’re working across territories, what does that mean for that region?”

She said some agent partners had asked if they can use sub-agents and they had said no “because of concerns around quality”.

And Pettit shared, “We have a policy that we won’t send any sub-agent applications unless we’ve got written permission.”