With the continuous changes and adaptations, international education faces daily, it's more crucial than ever to build up and build upon healthy relationships.
In Edvisor's second Industry Leaders Panel: Agencies and Schools Working Together in the COVID-19 Pandemic, we talk about the bedrock of the industry, how the pandemic is shaping it and more.
Industry Leaders Panel: Agencies and Schools Working Together in the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Jorge Otero, Co-owner and Executive Director Study Union
- Robin Adams, Director, IALC and CES North America
- Anna France, CEO Langports English Language College
- Nash Uriza, General Director EduLynks
- Danilo Lopes, Director and Founder of West 1
- Ben Delaney, Edvisor's Manager of School Success
First on the board was COVID-19, and how the pandemic has changed the way partner agencies and schools work with one another.
"The biggest change in the relationship with schools now, is the agencies may become a little bit more selective. We value the schools and the unis and the college a little bit more than in the past," said Jorge Otero.
We are together in the same industry, and together we can try to be better and fix everything that we need to fix together. That is the most important, in my opinion, Otero added.
Anna France agreed.
"As schools, we are also very careful of the types of agencies we've been working with. I think we've become closer through this pandemic, to the agencts that we've worked with for a very long time, the loyal partners, etc... that we work closer together to come through the pandemic together."
Through the pandemic, she said that there isn't much movement in terms of new agencies in specific markets. Still, there are some markets where many new agencies are popping up... "we need to assess any individual agency application and the risk that might come with working with them."
"We have to be very careful, but also we want to make sure the students are getting the best counselling or the best services. So, working with our loyal partners is really important, through that."
The pandemic, in a way, is creating creativity among schools and agencies, said Danilo Lopes.
"We have to be creative on how to lead the team, how the relationships between schools and students are going to play out. I think times like this, the most challenging of times for our industry; we are going to learn lots about the relationships between agencies and schools and the relationship between schools and students and agents and students as well. It's really important the good players in the market get together to create a new business model. I think it's a good opportunity to see deeply how we can to not be better than we used to be, but different in how we used to think."
Robin Adams raised the point that conversations these days are about objectives, working, training sessions, etc.
"We don't have those great opportunities at those various events [fairs], have a glass or two and you know, really get to know each others. What's interesting there, is it's difficult to establish new relationships in this new model, so those of us that have been around for a number of years it's great to have them to fall back on. But I miss the opportunity to be social together."
While Nash Uriza misses the social interaction, she said she's spoken with more people than ever in the industry.
"Zoom, Hangouts, WhatsApp is very active. I miss the people, but I've also been speaking with so many, so the technology is there to help us keep in contact."
"It is a good opportunity for us to be more productive," said Lopes.
"I enjoy the social aspect, don't get me wrong, but it's a good opportunity to be more productive because sometimes we can be too social, and get together, and not be as productive as we should to develop the industry, and our businesses, schools and agents."
Adams echoed these points of view, saying that more agency owners are active in finding out what the students need and interacting with them.
How schools and agencies work together
Quite a lot of the time, Edvisor isn't replacing the B2B contact, said Ben Delaney. The online platform makes things a lot more streamlined and allows schools to get their prices out and distribute them very well.
"But there's still that connection that's required. You need to be able to pick up the phone, get on a zoom call, a skype call and train the counsellors and pass on that knowlegdge."
It's critical that IALC as an association is committed to creating a platform where we can continue these conversations, said Adams.
"We hope through our partnership with Edvisor we can facilitate more conversations, in our virtual workshop with them in November - giving agencies the opportunity to work with the owners of schools; the people who can make decisions immediately. That's critical. We don't have a lot of time to waste."
Schools need to create effective training, whether it's digitally or in person, said Lopes.
"A lot of things are going to change. Less travel. From the school and agents standpoint, we have to think of new solutions. It's not individually. It's collective."
Otero added, "In that same way, the marketers maybe have to become more supportive, to help us achieve the goals and pushing the agencies for numbers."
"That's also perhaps a reason for selecting IALC schools. The conversations aren't necessarily with marketers, but more with school owners, senior managers in the schools, people who will be there for many years... That's where Edvisor and IALC are looking at creating more environments to continue these discussions because we're not going to come up with the answer in just one 45 minute session."
Uriza said things are changing.
"Schools and agencies because of course for the training, when marketers come to the office and take one hour with my team training, but we want to sell. And the schools pay a lot of money to send them to our office, and we are grateful they are there, but we want to move on and do something else. That's why this kind of platform is important to train," she said.
In the past, she said, she and her team relied on fairs, brochures and traditional ways to interact with schools. But technology helps change the interaction - "whether it's a webinar by Zoom or a live by Instagram or Facebook. I think after COVID-19 we will all be different."
Delaney, who has a past working in the schools' sector, added, "There is such a variety between markets and countries. The accreditation body in the UK is different to that in the USA, which is different to that in Canada, and different to Australia, and different to New Zealand - and I think that does pose a challenge for a consistent, unbiased world view."
Looking to the Future
The way the industry works is the same way it worked 30 years ago. This is not sustainable, said Lopes.
"The last 20 years, the loss of gross margin for both s and a is huge... Before COVID, I predicted the way we did things would last max, five or six years. Now I would say maximum two years... The industry has to look at a new way of doing things, a new business model. What is precious to us is the relationships with schools and agents and students. The overall experience. That's something we have not only maintain but improve. How can we do that in a sustainable way? That's the question we need to ask ourselves."
France agreed that the need for change has been expedited thanks to the pandemic.
"As a school during this time, we've done a lot of reflection while trying to maintain the courses we have for students already in the school. We've been talking a lot about 'what next' - when borders re-open, what will it look like? When things get back to the new normal, what will the new normal look like? How do we diversify the business to not have such risk, when you rely 100% on international students studying in one stream, like Langports is only ELICOS. Our risk we thought was spread because we have more than 70 nationalities attending our school. But when the whole globe shuts down, and you do rely on international students, what does that look like?"
The COVID-19 situation has thrown a lot of questions into the mix and meant the facilitation of conversations to find the path together. There needs to be some working together because working alone won't solve anything, said France.
The same situation occurring in the international education sector has been happening here in Columbia with the universities, said Otero.
"The number of students year by year is going down. One of the things that we need to do is think about when we are going to start listening to students. Maybe we are still thinking that everyone wants to be a doctor, but maybe not, maybe they just want to have more skills. Maybe they just want to have more experience, more life, more possibilities to work in [the field] they want to work. When are we going to start listening to the companies because we are feeding the companies with students. That is something we may have to start to do to co-create our work-business... Work with the all of the players. The most important player is the student."
Now, that's only a fraction of what was discussed by the panellists.
For the full conversation, click here.