Agents for international student recruitment: Have we not learned anything from Australia and the UK?

Australia and the UK have been revered for their best practices and proactiveness in using agents for student recruitment. Then came the “trouble” in international student market in Australia and the UK, resulting in tightening of student visa norms. What’s the relationship between tightening of student visa and agents? Many agents enabled “short-cuts” (read document frauds) for students in using education for immigration. (Here is my related post where I argue that a handful of self-proclaimed or certified “good” agents are not the industry.)

At a time when Australia and the UK are tightening the student visa, more students are looking to study abroad and agents are hungry for new destinations beyond their traditional favorite markets. At the same time, American public institutions are looking for more international students to meet their budget cuts. This is a perfect storm for the US higher education and international student recruitment practices. The clear direction is that more American universities are using agents which in turn will lead to more students on the campus but many of these students would have used “short-cuts.” The next thing we will see is the situation like Australia and the UK.

Sounds like an ominous opinion? So, here is the evidence:

June 2004, UK cracks student visa scam–“fraud involves producing fake documents claiming immigrants are studying at the Tooting colleges in South London so that they can obtain student visas giving them leave to remain in the UK.”

January, 2009, Migration fraud ‘rife’ in overseas student scams–“…shadowy ‘agents’ offered fake documents for thousands of dollars to naive young Chinese and Indian students….The scam has worked because international students need documents from the colleges they attend and employers with whom they do work experience before they can apply for permanent residency, which is often what they are most interested in.”

March, 2010, School is linked to visa fraud–“More than 80 people have been arrested in connection with a language school here that the government says was a front for the sale of fraudulent applications for student visas.”

May, 2010, Bogus students facing global crackdown–“‘Unscrupulous’ recruitment agents who bring bogus overseas students into the UK are being targeted in an international initiative.” (Yes, it happened in 2004 and again in 2009-10!!!)

February, 2011,Tri-Valley University: Agencies or students to blame?–“The big rush for higher education overseas, that many hope would eventually help them immigrate to ‘greener pastures’, has spurred the growth of number of consultancy firms.” Related story. (I think Tri Valley is the classic case of “I take the credit, you take the blame”).

May, 2011, China Rush to U.S. Colleges Reveals Predatory Fees for Recruits–“Some of the services provided by agents in China violate ethical standards for college admissions in the U.S. About 90 percent of recommendation letters for Chinese students are fake and 70 percent of essays aren’t written by the applicant, according to the Zinch China report.”

These are only a handful of the examples where irregularities and frauds were caught. I am sure there are many more which go undetected. I again, call institutions using agents and “good” agents themselves to come forward and disclose data about student profile and performance.

So, I have stated the problem with using agents. But, then what are the alternatives/solutions? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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