Speed of response, quality control and course availability were all key frustrations voiced by agents in The PIE survey on agent perspectives in South Asia.
Our survey provided a platform for agents to share their experiences and the aim of this article is to simply publish the responses verbatim to ensure these views are heard.
The vast majority of respondents (77.6%) taking part in the survey, considered the UK service to be ‘average’ or worse than average on admissions.
Agents were invited to give suggestions, in their own words, on how UK admissions services could be improved – and they didn’t hold back.
We have listed the responses across three recurring themes – communicating CAS capacity; suggestions on quality control; and the expectation of response times.
All comments were anonymous and came from agents based across the region including India (70.7%), Bangladesh (15.5%), Pakistan (13.8%), Nepal (6.9%) and Sri Lanka (5.2%).
CAS limit and course availability
There have been thousands of students deferred by UK universities this year as the sector CAS limit has reached capacity. This has left many agents dealing with refund requests and heartbreak from disappointed students.
Comments on this issue were very similar and consistently called for greater transparency on the availability of places for international students.
“I suggest universities disclose [the number of] CAS available to students which means student capacity,” one respondent said.
“Maintain seat numbers vs offer letters vs CAS issued publicly,” another suggested.
Others said universities should share the number of applications it will receive for each intake, adding that they must “must provide progress updates [on how many vacancies are open at any time]”.
“Universities are conducting the credibility interviews after receiving the tuition fee initial deposit but it should be before [taking a deposit] because we are facing problems locally after rejection and refund [sometimes related to CAS levels],” one said.
“It’s better to declare how many applications [there have been] or if there is a CAS cap”
Another said that despite meeting entry requirements, including IELTS scores, the university “still failed” one of its students after he paid “more than £8,000”.
“It’s better to declare how many applications [there have been] or if there is a CAS cap, it is better [for us] if you declare this in advance,” another response read.
“Avoid last minute CAS deadlines and the communication through pathway providers needs improvement. Upfront fee must not be greater than £2,000 as refunds are awful.”
Quality control, application fees, support and regulation
South Asia has become the epicentre for international student mobility in recent years and markets like Bangladesh and Pakistan have joined India in experiencing exponential growth in demand.
While interest has boomed, this has created issues for agents on the ground trying to qualify which students are genuine candidates to study in the UK.
Our survey showed a perception that both competition and fraud is increasing, with agents looking to universities to play their part in quality control and regulation of the industry to improve service for agent partners.
“Agencies need to be highly qualified and universities should monitor their practices in this region [South Asia],” one commented.
“Many agencies use private groups [on social media] and other mediums to spread false information and will also use unethical ways to secure a client. For example, they keep the original document hostage so that the client can’t explore other options. There are many such cases and universities in the UK must come together to tackle such unethical issues.”
Another said that in the past few intakes, some mid-ranked universities “targeted South Asia and Africa markets for numbers only [not quality]”.
Others pointed to the possible introduction of application fees.
“I think the university has to start charging application fees, so that most of the students will not apply for more than three universities. The student will at least try to research about the university as he is paying for it [application].
“If you would like to control volume or quality, do what Canadian institutions do and charge an application fee.”
Another suggested that institutions should “take a priority list from tier 1 and tier 2 agents of the students who will 99% make the payment, rather working on all applications received and [consequently] lose out on serious students”.
“Have better career support and orientation for students aiming to study at those universities. Have more diverse student volunteers available for student interactions.”
“Local support should be there and university representatives should have time to talk openly to agents and sub-agents too if required.”
“The UK HE sector will continue to grow rapidly, and demand will outstrip supply – as long as current legislation allows. Our recommendation to our university partners is to ‘professionalise’ their admissions and compliance functions, focus on student outcomes (not just their journey), and finally also to keep modernising their curriculums.”
“UK universities are making huge money from international students and are not putting money back into their admissions and marketing teams [to improve service].”
“We have seen issues with commission payments to the agents after doing all hard work in the past”
“[Regulation] is a must I feel. There should be some regulations in place. A third party independent regulations committee would be more preferable which can work for both agents and universities. We have seen issues with commission payments to the agents after doing all hard work in the past so third party agent regulation committee is preferable according to my opinion.”
Speed of response and offer from universities
Our survey showed average response times ranging between two weeks to two months for UK universities.
This inconsistency across the sector has been a source of deep frustration for both students and agents for a few years now, often resulting in applicants submitting additional speculative applications elsewhere in the hope of getting a faster offer.
A majority 62% of respondents said they would encourage students to apply elsewhere if they felt they were waiting too long for a response.
Comments on this theme included:
“Have a streamlined process, be more proactive on digital processes, reduce TAT of responses and even offer letters.”
“Admissions journey is in need of dire improvement, have a robust and easy to manage mechanism for tracking students recruited via agents.”
“Offers should be decided with computers using AI. This is the most efficient means to decide on applications.”
“Speed up the offer and give a quick ‘no’ when admission is not possible.”
“Make decision-making a bit faster.”
“[Communicate the] status for each student, where the application is at the moment and proper response to emails.”
“Faster services, clear and concise requirements [are needed].”
“To expedite the admission & CAS process [would be beneficial].”
“UK admission processing still needs more technology support to make it swift and speedy.”
Are you an agent working in a South Asian country to support students to apply to a UK university? Have your say in the comments below or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org