International recruitment agents: Playing with fire?

This week America’s second largest for-profit company–Education Management Corporation–was sued by the US government for allegations that it “consistently violated federal law by paying recruiters based on how many students it enrolled”, according to New York Times. Education Management is 41 per cent owned by Goldman Sachs and enrolls 150,000 students across 105 schools and clocked an annual revenue of nearly US$ 2.9 billion. If the allgegations are true than this is a prime example of institutionalization of illegal recruitment practices.

A couple of weeks back, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) came out in a public statement supporting commission-based recruiting for international students. APLU is an association of 221 public universities including state university systems like California State University System. Yes, the same commission-based recruiting which is illegal in the US is acceptable in international recruitment–double standards? Although, NACAC continues not to support commission-based agents, its bold stance of common and highest standards of recruitment practices, has been put in cold storage for couple of years.

While NACAC softens its stance, a couple of recent incidents highlighted the risks agency-model presents to the US higher education.

– Visa fraud raid on University of Northern Virginia: Another university after Tri Valley University was raided on the grounds of visa frauds. According to the Economic Times, “We caution them to be alert to the existence of these so-called predatory visa fraud rings and fraudulent document vendors,” said US State Department spokesman. Agents have no role to play in this? If a university in the US was able to work-around federal regulations, how does one expects to have any professional oversight or quality control on agents working in other countries? Here is another related proof where founder of AIRC certified ageny was found to be involved in forgerdy and embezzlement.  Now, what standards of documentations and fraud prevention do you think this agency would be expecting from students? (the height of irony is that Oceanic’s website reads “we strongly discourage students to use any fraudulent means for pursuing their studies overseas.”) Also, what happened to “professionalization” of agents expected from AIRC certificate?

– Australia recognizing agent and institution nexus: According to the The Age, “Senator Evans said in many cases a chain of migration agent, education college, and business owner had brought Indians to Australia to work, the students enrolled in a cooking or hairdressing course as a cover.” An Ombudsman has been established for international students in Australia to complain about institutions. Already there are several complaints about agents and institutions, “A tricky area is the obligation that colleges keep an eye open for any misleading activity by agents; for example, an offshore agent who tells would-be students that Australia is still an easy mark for migration.”, in an article in the Australian. Aren’t the proponents of agent-models saying that Australia has perfected the use of agents?

Why we only hear negative stories like Tri Valley and UNV about agents? Where are the positive stories of how agents helped attracting top quality students? Anyone care to share?

In next couple of years, given the financial strain on public universities and softening of NACAC’s stance, more institutions will use agents, however, many will only burn their hands by playing with fire.


Here are earlier posted on this topic:
Agents for international student recruitment: Have we not learned anything from Australia and the UK?
Recruitment agent debate: Are institutions ready for disclosures?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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