Education is often described as one of Australia’s most important exports: according to the federal Education Department, there were almost 555,000 full-fee paying students in Australia in 2016, up more than 10 percent on 2015. These numbers translate to more than $21 billion in value for the local economy.
Though the students keep coming, the experience they go through to come to Australia can often leave something to be desired, and Australian startup Brigie wants to fix it.
Brazilian brothers Nick, Mike, and Guilherme Borrego, now all based in Brisbane, have been working on Brigie since November 2016, inspired by their own experiences coming to study down under.
Having made the journey himself in 2008, Nick noticed that the arduous, paper-based process had barely changed when his younger brother Guilherme applied to study in Australia in 2016.
This experience, coupled with stories in the news at the time about international student agencies trying to funnel students into courses for which they would be paid the highest commission and other horror stories led the brothers to start brainstorming.
“We started to think of a better way to help international students find information about coming to Australia and apply to study in Australia using technology,” Nick said.
The platform is aimed at both course providers and students, with Brigie looking to partner with educational institutions to list their courses on the site for international students to search through and apply for.
“The process to find, compare, choose, and apply for a course to study in Australia from another country is a very time consuming, costly, and difficult process. Even to find someone or a travel agency that can be trusted is not an easy task,” Nick said.
Students will be able to search for and apply to courses with the help of an education agent, organise and pay their tuition fees, book accommodation, buy flights, and choose and purchase their health insurance, with the startup having partnered with a number of providers to ensure easy access for users.
Meanwhile, Nick said a major draw for educational institutions is to be able to have information about their courses translated into various languages for a global audience, with the platform also giving them the ability to chat directly with students and ensure students are being given up to date information.
With seed funding from a family member, the brothers have been working for the last 18 months to navigate the complex systems in place to help bring international students to Australia.
Among the key challenges, Borrego said, was getting educational institutions on board in the first place.
“This was, and still is challenging for us, to have the educational institutions come on board on this journey with Brigie. We are continuously having meetings with educational institutions around Australia; we have found that we need to personally show the institutions the Brigie platform and explain in detail how Brigie will help them and their international students for them to want to be included into our platform,” Borrego said.
From there, Brigie has had to work with institutions to standardise their application processes for Brigie’s online form.
“We overcame this challenge by showing the educational institutions that our interactive and friendly application form would be much easier for the international students, especially in their own language with Brigie’s location translation,” he explained.
Brigie has also implemented features at the request of students and institutions; among these is ‘Brigie Education Agent’ which, as the name suggests, performs the same kinds of functions as an international student agent, helping a student collect and submit all their relevant documents in order to attain a visa and a place in a course.
The platform tracks the progress of their application, and is available to help students throughout their time studying in Australia.
With the startup initially focused on bringing on students looking to study vocational education (VET) and English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) courses – 21 percent of the 550,000 international students in Australia in 2016 were studying ELICOS courses – Borrego said Brigie is currently working on contracts with educational institutions in this space.
“To create a lean market strategy and explore the early adopters, Brigie’s initial focus will be South American countries which includes Brazil, Colombia, Chile as the primary focus,” Nick explained.
“We are working with global marketing agencies to produce effective marketing campaigns initially focused in countries in South America. We are investing significant time in the marketing plan to attract students to the platform.”
Brigie, of course, faces significant competition: the education agents that dominate the market. Nevertheless, Nick said the team is confident they have a strong competitor.
“Nothing has changed in a long time, and they still use the same slow process. Brigie will not advise the student what course [they] should choose because of commission. The students will have the ability to choose for themselves and decide what the best option is. Brigie will be fast and easy; the student will be able to do everything on the tap of a finger without wasting time and money,” Nick said.
Brigie joins fellow Brisbane startup CohortGo in targeting the international student sector: the startup’s platform looks to assist international students in setting up their lives and study in a new country, with a focus on facilitating easy payments to educational institutions, insurance companies, accommodation providers a student may be using, and providing comparisons to health insurance.
As it gears up for launch, Nick said Brigie’s long term goal is to target students beyond South America and expand its partnerships with educational institutions to offer TAFE and university courses.
Image: the Brigie team. Source: Supplied.