East Asia Agents celebrates AQF success

Published 29/02/2024

As British Council and its partners celebrate the Agent Quality Framework’s uptake across East Asia, stakeholders in the region are calling for more subject specific training from university partners in the UK.

Leighton Ernsberger, director education East Asia, British Council, is keen to use the AQF, launched in partnership with BUILA, UKCISA and UUKi, to deepen relationships with agents in the region, rather than disrupt them, he told The PIE.

“Agents are not just advocates for UK education, they are an invaluable part of the student mobility puzzle,” said Ernsberger, during the 2024 East Asia Agent Conference.

The event in Kuala Lumpur, which kicked off British Council’s East Asia Education Week, saw 300 in-person delegates, and 150 more online, gather to discuss agent-institution relationships, enrolment trends, challenges and more.

MABECS Malaysia is one agency that has chosen to embed the AQF training in its internal training program, starting when it hired a large number of new counsellors in 2023, all of whom are now certified.

“Everything within the AQF sits very well with how we run our business and the things that we value,” said Devina Sivagurunathan, executive director of MABECS Malaysia.

We are not just your agent, we are partners

Speaking of the wider benefits of the AQF, Sivagurunathan said that it sends a positive message universities and agents are “on the same page” and that it helps cement the UK as a “good and solid study destination”.

The training is designed to “complement a lot of what already happens”, said Shonagh Maak, head of international stakeholder engagement, the University of Glasgow.

Maak added that much of the benefit lies in providing external recognition to students, and government, about the quality being delivered.

British Council, which heads up the agent training aspect of the AQF, took the in-person opportunity, along with its partners, to congratulate certified agents in a ceremony during the conference.

Among the certified agents present at the event was Thitirat My, director of agency Classy Education, who spoke to The PIE about the benefits of the framework for agents in Laos.

“If students continue to rely on agent services, I think choosing certified agents is important,” said My.

“In an emerging market like Laos, students and parents are prioritising word-of-mouth and trust that they have in individual counsellors or agents over school and university’s ranking and other benefits when choosing to appoint an agent.”

“We’ve had a very positive reception to the AQF,” said Charley Robinson, head of global mobility policy at UUKi.

“I think the fact that we did so much research and engagement with different stakeholders at the beginning made a really big difference. It wasn’t coming out of the blue and it’s been clear that we’re doing this in partnership with agents and consultation with government stakeholders.”

The aim is to have all student-facing, UK serving agents complete the training, said Robinson, a target being promoted through the agent pledge for providers.

The AQF is currently under review by the board of UUK, in a process that Robinson said will ensure the framework has all the provisions it needs, as well as providing an outline for next steps and future iterations.

Meanwhile, agents across East Asia are calling for more strategic conversations with UK in-country representatives, as well as regular training, in a bid to better serve students from their respective countries, delegates heard.

“With in-country reps, it’s important for us to meet with them fairly regularly and understand their priorities,” said Sivagurunathan.

“Sometimes, because they look after different regions in Southeast Asia or maybe other parts of Asia, Malaysia tends to be forgotten.”

“Where we see increased value is in more niche training in terms of subject specific material and updates on the specific institution,” said Michelle Tinloi, managing director of Education Tower.

It’s a sentiment shared by Thi Hong Nham Lu, director, Duc Anh EduConnect and SIUK, Vietnam, who also expressed the value of being trained by someone with a solid market understanding of the country or region the agent operates in.

Retaining information from up to 200 university partners can be tough, added Tinloi, arguing the case for regular refresher training.

Equality and partnership were themes reoccurring in conversations throughout the event.

“A good university partner is one which is has a really strong engagement with us. We are not just your agent, we are partners. I am expecting equality. That is the message,” said Satyadhi Hendra, director, Indonesia-Britain Education Centre.

“If you have a strong engagement with us, then we are very sure the market will grow.”

The post East Asia Agents celebrates AQF success appeared first on The PIE News.