Daniel Zheng is the general manager of English UK partner agency Hope which is based in China. He set up his agency after working for the British Council in Shanghai.
How did you become an agent?
I worked for the British Council in Shanghai until 1999, and my responsibilities were to promote education at all levels, including giving market briefings to UK institutions. I accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about the market in China and British institutions, and that's why I decided to set up my own company. Also, I studied my Master's degree in the UK and that's another practical experience. Previously students going for overseas education were the responsibility of the government but from the late 1990s a lot of students were being sponsored by their families, and because there weren't many agents at that time it was relatively easy for us to do business.
What do you specialise in?
I mostly send students to the UK - around 1,300 each year. We also send 30 or 40 to the US. We deal with mature students as well as younger ones. In the beginning most were coming to the UK for postgrad studies, now a lot of it A Level and GCSE as well as foundation.
What are the challenges?
China is a big market so there are always lots of challenges between agencies and different countries. The main competition for the UK is the US, Australia and Canada – they're all going into the China market. You need to defend yourself as promoting the UK as a better choice than other countries.
Secondly, there is healthy competition between agencies. But not all agencies are professional, and some offer a lower price to students and provide a poor service. Misleading students is really bad. They want to get a cheap service but sometimes they are disappointed and think agents are all bad and that destroys the branding of all agencies.
In China it's a big market and there are always a lot of challenges: courses. competition between agencies, different countries. We send students mainly to the UK but lots of others spread out and do other countries as well. The main competition for UK are the US, Australia and Canada, all English-speaking countries going into the China market. You need to defend yourself quite heavily by promoting UK as a better choice than other countries.
Also, the market has changed very quickly – 20 years ago it was predominantly post-graduate, now there's a lot more variety – GCSE, A Level, MBA, business, finance, e-commerce, media and so on. In terms of English language students were previously only interested in academic pre-sessional courses at university, but now they like summer programmes, taster programmes, activity programmes and there's more variety in student levels and subjects, that's the challenge.
We need to adapt to that market, and that's why I attended StudyWorld this year, to find different types of programme to cater to different demands.
How do you enjoy your job?
That's another challenge - a lot of Chinese agencies want to make quick money and try to attract funding from banks and investment companies, and some don't have their heart in education.
We want our business to be about education. Finding the right place for the right student is the thing I like.
I think it's good it's fun to meet people from different places in the UK and make friends talking to academics and international office staff, helping them to recruit students in the China market we know well.
It's also about finding right schools and course in the UK for students of different ages and helping the family to find the right programme.
We also have quite a few schools and university links where we are getting them to do joint programmes for teacher training. It's two-way: Chinese students are coming to the UK and now UK students and teachers are going to China. This summer about 10 UK students and their teacher spent 2 weeks in China as an exchange. This is something we think is interesting and meaningful to individuals and education as well.
What do you think of the Partner Agency Scheme?
We like coming to your StudyWorld because it is a good platform for us to meet your member schools which provide different types of programme, including boarding schools, universities, language schools and FE colleges. We can find the right person, right organisation and right programme for our client. Sometimes we come here looking for only English language programmes but find other programmes as well. We often get a pleasant surprise.
The second reason we like the Partner Agency Scheme is that because we focus on the UK, working with English UK raises the profile of our company as well we are in the same branding and UK focused and BC our company UK focused raises profile for us as well, raising opportunities.
The third reason is that you organise quite a lot of interesting events - I particular enjoy the small ones like the Asian workshop with maybe 20 agencies or 30 and 15 or 20 of your members in places I can get to. They are a really nice experience.
Big events like StudyWorld can be more effective, though tiring - in 2 days I met 28 educators - but sometimes small events give you more time to talk in depth to school members. 20 minutes can be enough but sometimes you need an hour or two hours. A small event gives you a lot of opportunities to talk in depth and that leads to the real business.
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