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International students: What makes a good education agent?

James Davis

Careers Commentator
It can be difficult finding a good education agent that adequately meets your requirements. Here are qualities to look for in honest agents.

Education agents are one of the options international students have of connecting with Australian institutions and finding an ideal course. Although they’re far from perfect, they give prospective students the opportunity to organise all the logistics of getting to Australia and comfortably enrolled. Some aren’t entirely honest though. In 2015, it was reported in The Age that education agents from Victoria were scamming international students for exorbitant amounts. One student even accrued a $35,000 debt for no benefit whatsoever. For this reason, we thought it pertinent to define the characteristics of good education agents, how you can identify them and avoid bad education agents. With these in mind, we’ll finish off with a few useful tips you can use in your search.

What does an education agent do?

They use their knowledge to help you apply for University courses, student visas, find accommodation and other student services or amenities. They need:

  • Strong knowledge of the intricacies of many degrees
  • Comprehensive understanding of Australian culture
  • Comprehensive understanding of the Australian higher education system
  • Compliance with the Education Centre of Australia’s Policy and Procedure of Appointing, Monitoring and Terminating Education Agents. This can be read about in more detail here.

Education agents represent the university they were appointed by, with every university being required by law to publish each agent that represents them on their website.

What does a good/ legitimate education agent look like?

Good education agents must have a contract with the university that employs them, in addition to having their brand listed on that university’s website. If your agent is transparent about this documentation, and they’re listed on the university website they allegedly represent, this is a mark of legitimacy.

It’s not uncommon to be charged fees, but transparency about what everything will cost is crucial. If your agent is up-front about the total cost of their service, that’s a good thing.

A good agent will tell you the truth. Getting through all the paperwork is difficult, so if your agent doesn’t ‘sugar coat’ the difficulties you may face, that’s another mark in their favour.

Good agents should help you understand any and all legally binding documents if you’re still developing your English skills. If they give you plenty of time and make an effort to help answer your questions and understand what you’re signing, this is another mark of legitimacy.

What does a bad/ illegitimate education agent look like?

If your education agent claims to represent a university, but you can’t find anything about them on that university’s website, that’s a very bad sign. If they’re unable to produce proof of affiliation, you should stay away from them. The best thing you can do is make a phone call to the university itself and ask if that agent is indeed affiliated. If they aren’t, stay away.

Another mark of poor education agents are lofty ‘deals’. If your education agent claims they can reduce your course fees, or obfuscate their own fees, they should be avoided. The aforementioned scams reported by The Age featured fraudulent agents offering their clients 10% off all their university fees and saying they’d ‘pass the cost onto the institution.’ If they tell you everything’s fine, they’ll handle all your troubles and pressure you to sign documents, these are all damning signs of a fraudulent education agent. Don’t sign anything you don’t 100% understand.

Tips for assessing education agents

The best thing you can do is compare offers. Big universities will often have multiple education agents, which they must list on their website. If you have your heart set on one university in particular, you can either browse that university’s site or contact them over email or phone and ask for a full list of affiliated education agents. This will go a long way to avoiding scams and doing comparisons between legitimate offerings. Some things you’ll want to be comparing include:

  • Fees - what will they charge you in total?
  • Services - what exactly are you paying for?
  • Timeframe - how long will this process take?

Approved education agents vary by country, so take the following steps to find the list of agents relevant to you:

  1. Use your preferred search engine and input a query containing the institution. Example (without quotation marks): “University of Melbourne education agents”
  2. Use any filters provided on the most relevant result to search by you country and state/ province. Example:

education agent search tool

      3. Browse, compare and contrast results given.
education agent search tool

Doing this comparison not only lets you find the best deal, but also discover differences between each provider’s fees, services and schedules.

Have a translator or close friend fluent in English with you when dealing with any documents or asking questions. You can’t afford to have any misunderstandings, especially when signing legal documents that could incur formidable fees. Even if your English is well-practiced, it pays to have multiple people examine a contract with you for a better chance at catching issues.

If any education agent claims to outperform the others by a significant margin, be careful. There’s only so much they can do, so if what they’re offering seems too good to be true, it’s probably false! Any agent claiming they can slash your university fees, get your visa processed in three hours or shoot rainbows out of their eyes is to be regarded with caution.

You should now have a much better idea of what an education agent does, what good or bad ones look like and how to choose. Remember: Education agents aren’t the only option! At PostgradAustralia, we help students find and compare courses on their own for free. It takes time, of course, but you can save some money by putting in your own visa applications, searching for accomodation and courses. If you’d rather have it all taken care of though, an education agent is a great option. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll have a better time picking the right ones.

Seeing as you’re here, why not have a look through the courses on offer to get a head start? You can do this here.