Agents Corner

Get to know Akram Mardini from Student World

By Edvisor

Jan 27, 2021

Student World represents education institutions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the USA, sending a yearly average of 3,500 students from all over the world.

They’ve used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to innovate in both strategy and systems. We’re delighted that this search for innovation has led them to partner with Edvisor.

Learn more about Student World, how they have adapted to the challenges of 2020 and their exciting partnership with Edvisor in this 15-minute interview with their General 
Manager, Akram Mardini , and our very own James Cowan.

1) Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in international education.

I'm an mechatronics engineer by trade but I started working in Education back in 2009, I actually started working at Student World. In 2015-2016 we went to a Venture Capitalist where we started expanding into buying other agencies and schools. In our portfolio now we've got 3 different schools and 4 different agencies. And that's the growth that we've had across the years.Talking about Student World, what are your main recruiting countries and for what types of programmes are you placing them into...

Predominantly in terms of the programmes we've always placed our students into Higher Education, so that's always been our niche. We obviously work very closely with some education providers that sell English and VET courses, a bit of High School but that's definitely not our bread and butter. 

We currently have offices placed globally; Turkey, UAE, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, Sydney, Melbourne, Texas, Italy, Spain, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and hopefully Colombia this year.

Our head office is in Australia, our destinations go across UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US but definitely Australia would be our biggest.

2) In terms of students, what are your numbers in a typical normal year?

Student World as a whole you're looking at about 1,000 - 1,500 students a year, across all our agencies we are at about 3,500.

3) 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges for our industry. Can you tell us about your experience managing these challenges as the General Manager of Student World?

Look, the biggest challenge has probably been an organised acceleration of things, one of the hardest things that we've had to undergo is being able to adapt and adjust our recruitment strategies, from being able to travel constantly, open up new offices... to having to retract, reignite people wanting to study online... change of strategy to ensure that the we get number of students that we were looking at across a year that had a lot of uncertainty.

A lot of students still want to invest their money into not being able to travel and just being able to study online, that was probably one of our biggest challenges.

Luckily we were in a much better place than other people because our offices are at places where we are able to recruit, so it weren't that challenging, specially because we have offices in our destination countries as well so we are able to recruit students onshore.

It definitely was an interesting year, I wouldn't say it was a bad one, it was definitely a learning curve for us, give us enough time to reestablish our base and our systems, that's how we got into Edvisor. There's a lot of things that we're doing in the background so we are able to assist and process things. And that's what I thing was our biggest win during this very challenging year. 

4) What is the current landscape for student recruitment in the ANZA market? What are your expectations for the year ahead?

I don't foresee borders reopening straight away, Australia has always had a very conservative approach towards the health and security of the people.

Canada I think had this first step which I think it was really successful in getting students in, and creating these "pilots" that will arrange for those students to go in. Essentially what I do see is a really good strategy plan for international students to start coming in slowly, starting with students who already got a visa so far. I can tell you from the beginning of 2021 until now we had over 97 new visas granted. These are coming from our overseas offices - students are waiting for their visas to start studying online until the borders are reopened. 

The way I see Australia is taking part of this "pilot" honestly starting with students who already gotten their visas and are vaccinated, along with the students who are in the process of getting visas, towards the end of getting the visitors back in.

The onshore market has started to dry up obviously, not a lot of students keep wanting to change, the beginning to mid last year was when people were just scared of everything. The ones who wanted to go back home and did not want to stay did that straight away, then the borders got shut and the students who were in here were like..."Hold on. If we go we cannot come back, so let's just stick to where we are. Either choose a provider that it is a better fit for us or a course that we are more interested in".

All the student jobs that were available are no longer available obviously, with the hospitality industry crashing, the closures, the people who could not work from home...all that we had to take into account. And that is the reason why the student onshore market was working for people who wanted to change courses. We were still looking for people to assist during the pandemic, and luckily there was this people so we kept our offices opened. Also students who wanted to scale up from ELICOS or VET to Higher Education so we were able to get a lot of traction from the onshore market which helped us. 

Moving forward onto 2021 obviously now we are seen that the onshore market is starting to dry up a little bit but the offshore market has picked up again. With the vaccine I can see the light in the end of the tunnel and that is why we are getting new applications coming to our offices. People are looking forward to apply for programs, getting their english improved and visa ready, so once the border is opened they are ready to go.

5) How has the pandemic impacted your relationship with your partner schools? How has the way in which you work with your partners changed? 

We had to look after each other. The partners who we are very close with we had to ensure that we were able to retain the support and looking after them, even with onshore and offshore market changes and all this sort of staff. One thing I can say is that the ones who we were really close we kept even closer. The providers who supported and really looked after the students, provided extra support with scholarships from university partners and payment plans. We did a few campaigns for the community with our parters, for example free meals for students with commercial cookery courses. We were very close with them and we were lucky to be very well positioned with the universities, who had a little bit of extra cash to assist students on helping paying for rental and accommodation, specially for those who the parents could not send money from overseas.

6) Would you agree that the pandemic has enforced our industry to become more tech-savvy? What tech solutions are you working with in Student World? 
We were always very focused on what we are doing to ourselves and how we are self-classified because of the 70% retrieval that we get from our own clients referring their friends to us. So it doesn't matter how much marketing we make, literally 70% of our business comes from referrals, and that is enough for me to know we are doing the right thing.

On the full scale of things is still too early to see what changes the universities have gone through but I can tell you that people working online and from home, there is a lot of changes and regulations within the policies of universities and how the applications are being submitted, the turnaround...all that sort of stuff... that have evidently changed the way universities pursue things, specially when it comes to staff attendance in the office and all this sort of stuff. With universities we were still able to get to the staff to get to their KPIs, without the self monitoring, they have realised that time in the office, or the time to rent big offices and spend money on them will no longer be there. Everyone will be moving on to hotspots without office attendance.

Obviously with all the changes, working from home is not a problem for us. We are "systems-ready" to go onto another lockdown. As long as we are getting the enquiries and the students, we can still service them. That was essential for us to do.

7) You recently started using Edvisor, do you see any advantages?

100%, that was one of the most important steps that we needed to take, we needed a system that would assist us in being able to scale and we couldn't have been able to scale using our own systems and that's why Edvisor was a perfect fit.

8) What are your thoughts on Edvisor’s recent acquisition of EducationLink? What benefits do you think this will bring to ANZA-focused agencies like Student World?

I think its a perfect mix. The only thing that I saw and that was my initial comment to Edvisor. Everything is set up, very simple and not cluttered. We come from SalesForce background and there was a lot of information that were not really required from the agency perspective. But that acquisition is really going to help fixing the invoicing part for the education agency and getting two products in one merge will be the perfect product for all agencies to expand on to, and will lead to further assistance into reporting for those schools working with those agents. 

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