When Internet reached inner confines of India and when the young started browsing at broadband speeds, it resulted in airlines cutting out the intermediaries or lowering the commissions paid to the agents and hence drove many travel operators out of business. The same was forecasted also for the education agents and many western commentators believed that students will now access the information online, put in applications online and then will not need the services of an education agent. They also hence influenced the “so called experts” within the education sector to devise strategies that worked from this assessment. However, there was one major error in the calculations. Overseas students did not need the agent only for assistance with applications into institutions. They also needed the agents for help through the student visa process with advise that came out of their experience. Though authorities did not approve, the agents also were the first port of call for students seeking education as a pathway to migration and whether the education agents offered migration process or not, they had to respond to the student’s queries on the courses that met the migration requirements. While the education information could be provided through online searches and online counseling, student visa guidance and also some “tips” on the migration pathway, could only be taken through the education agents “face to face”. Education Providers too realized this and more so realized that converting online enquiries to “bums on seats” was far more complex than through the services of the agents.
The above applied to offshore and onshore education agents and the business opportunity that came their way. A perfect business model indeed and win-win for all…Education Providers, Students, Agents and even Government Agencies. DIAC relied on selective agents worldwide to vet the visa lodgments. Austrade and AEI worked closely with agents to boost forex earnings and also to focus on certain markets. In Australia, several migration agents extended their activities to include education counseling.
However the last two years has seen a changed environment. Whether it is for good or not; is subject to another article. Here we just note that the environment has been altered.
A tightening of the residency visa regulations means that those who entered Australia desiring their education to be a pathway to migration had to look for changed courses and quick-fix solutions and handholding locally to find solutions.
Onshore agents were not recruiting students from offshore locations and suddenly found themselves moving students from diplomas to degrees and from one MODL occupation linked course to another SOL linked program.
This churning of the students already in the system gave an illusion of the market existing when the reality was that the new students entering Australia from India had declined by over 75% last two year.
The reality is also that the churning of the students in the system only has a short life span. There is likely to be very few students seeking changes from diploma to degree or any other such movement in 2013. Further, since the first visa to private institutions and to vocational providers has already become so difficult, it is less likely that the industry will see the same kind of numbers again. Students already in the University system are less prone to the churning phenomenon anyways.
This is only one aspect of the changed environment… The Post-Study-Work visa announced this year post-Knight review means that a “near-guarantee” is being linked to the student visa for degree students. Though this is a welcome move, it is something that will make many onshore education and migration agents uneasy. The “guarantee” means that the students will be able to work for 2-4 years on completion of the program and this was not dependent on the occupation and whether it had migration outcomes. This “guarantee” means that the students will not be seeking help from migration or education agents on-shore anymore from 2013 to the same extent as has been done currently.
And… the streamlined system proposed for the Universities and also other guides issued to them have meant that most Universities are going to be using less and less number of agents even in the overseas markets. Education Agents are going to be required even more but since the institutions have to be accountable for them, they are likely to be even more discerning. I will not be surprised if they limit their new agents only to certain markets around the world and reduce their onshore contracts.
Well, in light of the above… my gut feel is that migrations agents will be busier with employee and state nomination categories, family migrations and other such categories that require handholding beyond the information that is currently available in public domain. The skill level of the migration agents will also be challenged and personally I feel that this will drive some of them also out of business.
What bothers me is the fact that some registered migration agents due to their helplessness or greed are cutting corners in overseas markets through sub-contracting or otherwise and hence bracketing others in their industry also as suspicious. I may indicate that in India, AAERI was forced to suspend 4 agents recently for suspected-student fraud and even though the matter is still under police/authorities investigation, 2 of the 4 agents are registered (and continue to be registered) migration agents in Australia though functioning through sub-offices in India. Technically, the Australian legislation does-not reaches India and this is where a loophole exists allowing onshore-regulated agents engaging in unregulated activities overseas.
I shall hesitate in generalizing and shall acknowledge that many of the agents are ethical and genuine in their intent. However like what happened with offshore education agents over last two years, scape-goats too have to be found. I fear that Australia has found them in the onshore education agents and in the offshore activities of the onshore migration agents…