Enough has been talked about the impact of Covid on Universities. Today’s news indicates that even large and well-endowed G8 Universities are moving for redundancies and voluntary retirements. Some commentators even recommended that Universities may sell “further” stake in education agencies to navigate the revenue-expense gap. There has also been recommendations on how students’ needs will need to be attended to.
However, rarely, have the education agents been asked: How are you and how are you managing?
One of the highlights of the AAERI convention was the candid session with six “very successful” education agents having decades of experience had (Vinodji of VIEC, Sushil of Edwise, Robert of Dilinger, Gulshan of Kangaroo, Vijay of V&U and Mahesh of Kangaroo-Nepal). AAERI Executive Rupesh Duggal conducted the discussion perfectly and drew out their thoughts.
This is my blog and thus there is space for my own introduction of the panellists. And through this introduction I am attempting to establish the vintage of the panellists and why their comments matter:
- I first met Sushil on the first day of my arrival at the Bond University campus exactly 30 years ago in September of 1990. We both had arrived from India to commence our MBA and Bond’s trimester offering enabling a degree to be completed in shorter time attracted the two of us who had our businesses to go back to. We had met at the Bank on the campus. Became roommates and then on return to India in 1991, set up one of the first ventures in the space of representing Australian Universities. Over the following years, we did proceed on to setup independent companies that are competitors but have remained collaborators for the good of the sector. AEI not just setup AAERI in 1996 where both of us got involved but also set up AIGA (Association of Indian Graduates from Australia) and here too both of us became initial active members setting out to develop an alumni network.
- Robert too returned from Australia and set up one of the early ventures in the sector. I believe it was in early 90s that he had studied at RMIT. Our paths crossed a bit later in 1990s when Robert took interest in AAERI and even became an executive representing the South Indian region. Respected for the way he conducts himself and now based in Melbourne, Robert is now also an active member of the Australian Chapter of AAERI.
- In mid 90s, IDP entered India. It was pitched more like British Council at that time. It was an NGO and worked closely with all education agents. I have been on its first roadshow too and my company even assisted institutions on their booths when it held its roadshow in Kolkata. IDP India was led by a friend, Henry Ledlie and Henry was assisted by Vinodji. This is how long back Vinodji’s experience goes. I recall that sometime around 2007-08 when there were concerns amongst AAERI members over the need to build firewall between the English Testing and Student counselling divisions and just before IDP was to be move into a more commercial avatar, I, as President of AAERI then, had been hosted (alongwith my colleague Bubbly) at the IDP office by Henry and Vinodji and we had agreed to a very sound understanding suiting the full industry, outside of the courts. Those were the days when competitors on the ground became collaborators and even set aside company’s selfish interests for the wellbeing of all and the industry. Over the last decade we have seen Vinodji lead VIEC.
- Gulshan used to work with the Australian High Commission and had even served as an Education Promotion Officer. However in mid 90s he set up his company, Kangaroo Studies. Gulshan has also been a founder member of AAERI and a colleague in the executive ever since. Ten years ago when our sector was hit by another storm and Arnab led media channel targeted Australia as racist, Gulshan, as President of AAERI travelled across cities correcting the impression that had been portrayed. He held press meets and pointed out the erroneous reporting. While many may not remember, his role at that time was critical in the quick bounce back of the sector.
- I interacted with Vijay when he got elected from Hyderabad region to the executive. My memory is failing but I would feel it was well over two decades ago and possibly in the early years of AAERI. I would say that he will be amongst a handful of experts on the way the students think and decide on their study overseas plans, especially from Hyderabad region.
- Mahesh’s company too is called Kangaroo and I have been working with him over the last few years to develop AAERI Chapter in Nepal. He has been widely respected in the Nepal market and has served also as Vice President of ECAN and working alongside Dwiraj, the collaboration amongst the education agencies in the fast growing market is evidence that members have begun to see the advantages even for competitors to come together to initiate self-regulation.
- Lastly, Rupesh Duggal of Cambridge is a senior executive member elected to represent the Northwest region of India. Punjab alone contributes 30-40% of all students who travel overseas and Rupesh has actively campaigned to ensure that self-regulation and self-discipline in the market ensures that AAERI north-west members are viewed for professionalism that they exhibit. I have worked closely with Rupesh over two decades and now he is working on building the Australian Chapter.
I invite stakeholders to take out a few minutes to listen to what they are saying and am sharing the recording here. These 45 minutes will give an excellent snapshot of what plagues the sector. For most of this discussion, the members let their own business issues take a backseat and discussed on the “roadmap to recovery” post Covid and for Australia to be in the reckoning in the future. They talked of the ROI and how it can be increased. It is only towards the end when the issues pertaining to revenue shortfall, clawback on commissions and the threat of students ready to fly out to other destinations came out.
I need not say anymore… The video speaks for itself. Watch till the very end and see how the mood changes and how my colleagues start mirroring the reality. My colleague Nishidhar Borra who was coordinating the convention throws in a last minute direct question to Sushil and do hear out the reply. Australian policy makers must realise that students in pipeline will not defer indefinitely and the education agents are looking for some futuristic thinking on their part.
Hold on guys. Trim operations. Stay Together. In Bengal they remind of what Tagore wrote:
Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ase Tobe Ekla Cholo Re
(“If no one responds to your call, then go your own way alone”)