Building a bridge to Australia

by Carmen To

Peter Burges, director, Hong Kong, IDP Education Australia Limited
Photo: Johnson Poon

There is a lot to be learned when helping others arrange an international education

Universities and employers in Hong Kong are unanimous in their belief that time spent studying overseas brings innumerable benefits. It gives students a broader view of the world, lets them improve their language skills, and gives a clear competitive advantage when applying for a first full-time job.

For undergraduates in Hong Kong, one of the most popular options is Australia, which is perceived as being geographically close and is home to many highly regarded universities.

For the last 37 years, IDP Education Australia Limited has been providing a bridge to these educational institutions for students in Southeast Asia. The organisation offers not only a wide range of information about courses and campus life, but also an efficient enrolment service.

"Our staff get experience in everything from publishing and design to customer service and interviewing, when dealing with students and parents," says director Peter Burges. "In a sense, that makes us a great training ground."

The usual entry-level position is as a consultant or counsellor and, understandably, preference is given to applicants with a degree from an Australian university or with in-depth knowledge of the country. This, along with sound language and communication skills and an outgoing personality, helps in dealing efficiently with all manner of day-to-day enquiries.

"We expect staff to be bilingual as they may need to communicate with our representatives in Australia on a regular basis," Mr Burges says. He adds that having up to two years' experience in customer service is also viewed as a major advantage. This, though, can make it slightly more difficult for recent graduates to break into the field, particularly since the overall rate of staff turnover is quite low.

The priority for a consultant or counsellor is to understand the key objectives of each prospective student. With this information, they can identify and discuss the best course options, as well as specific personal and career goals. The job also entails arranging visas and health insurance, since the Australian government has a policy requiring overseas student health cover (OSHC). When appropriate, company offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane then follow up to assist arriving students with familiarisation and starting their studies.

IDP makes a point of advocating the value of an all-round education. Now, apart from advising and enrolling international students in Australian courses, the company also owns a share in the International English Language Testing SystemR (IELTSR).

There are plans to launch Mandarin classes next year and the general direction of the business will be to work more closely with the offices in mainland China to develop new opportunities. Mr Burges says it is therefore considered a "big plus" if staff are mobile, adaptable, and willing to spend time in the mainland.

Competitive edge

  • Have a recognised overseas qualification, an international outlook and good language skills
  • Up to two years' experience in a customer service role
  • Able to adapt and to multi-task
  • Prepared to spend time in the mainland to develop new business opportunities


Taken from Career Times 06 October 2006
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