Ok, so the title of this post was deliberately provocative, but the education agent management processes implemented by many educational institutions mean that they are flying blind on the critical issue of education agent misconduct.

Education agents play an increasingly important role in the international education market.

Good education agents can deliver great outcomes for international students and institutions. Bad agents – those that behave unprofessionally, unethically or dishonestly – are a huge risk for the educational institutions and international students who work with them.

It is critical that your institution has effective systems and processes in place to manage the risk of education agent misconduct. Effective risk management starts with asking the right questions, and setting high standards of transparency and accountability for the agents you work with.

We’re going to look at both of those elements – the right questions, and high standards – and suggest some simple measures to:

  • significantly increase your levels of assurance about the professionalism of your agents, and
  • decrease the risk that potential education agent misconduct poses to your institution and students.

1. Education agent misconduct: ask the question

We look at a lot of education agent application forms here at AgentBee. Very few of them ask prospective agents to provide information about incidents or allegations of misconduct relating to the agency and/or key individuals.

Does your institution’s education agent application form ask for this information? If not, why not?

Educational institutions that use AgentBee’s agent management solution are covered. The in-built agent application form is based on international best practice and has a section focused on incidents and allegations of misconduct.

There is a separate but related issue here about the fundamental inefficiency associated with the traditional education agent application form approach. That’s covered in detail in another post.

Client references – a side note

Something that is included in just about every education agent application form we see is a request for references from current educational institution clients. You could be forgiven for thinking that’s enough. If there are any issues of concern about an agent the references will uncover that, right?

Not so much.

Two reasons:

  • An agent is unlikely to offer up a negative reference.
  • Often the other institutions an agent represents may not even know there is a problem. AgentBee tracks reported incidents of education agent misconduct and lists them in our Education Agent Alert Database. We follow up with institutions who work with those agents to advise them of the incidents. Often the institution is completely unaware of the issue.

2. Demand continuous disclosure

Another thing we look at a lot is education agency agreements or contracts. These are the formal written agreements that educational institutions put in place with education agents to set out the terms of the working relationship for the recruitment of international students.

A standard agent agreement or contract should require the education agent to disclose serious allegations or incidents of misconduct to you as soon as they occur.

Again, very few of the agreements we see include continuous disclosure as a requirement.

Does your institution’s standard education agent agreement require continuous disclosure? If not, why not?

It’s a simple fix that could deliver crucial risk management information over the course of your relationship with an education agent.

Why would an education agent disclose misconduct?

Given the choice between disclosing misconduct or not disclosing it, an education agent may be more inclined to keep it quiet and hope that nobody finds out, right?

Sure, some agents will take that approach but they are exactly the type of agent you don’t want to be working with.

Instead you want agents who are prepared to be transparent about, and accountable for, problems when they arise. And they will arise.

Disclosure – a two way street

Disclosure – either during the agent application process, or over the life of an agreement – only works if your institution is prepared to work constructively with an agent to deal with any reported incidents or allegations of misconduct.

What won’t work so well is a one strike policy where your institution either refuses to work, or continue to work, with an agent who discloses a problem. An agent who anticipates that outcome is unlikely to be inclined to come clean. Your agent facing messaging should make clear that you want information about misconduct so you can work with them to address it in a measured way.

Stuff happens. Mistakes are made. It’s life. It’s business. The important things for your institution to understand are:

  • what happened?
  • what were the consequences?
  • what were the lessons learned?
  • what has the agent done to ensure that the problem does not arise again?

These considerations should inform your approach to responding to disclosures by new or current agents.

Sometimes the issue may be so serious that you have no choice but to cut ties with the agent. Other times you may well be able to find a way through what occurred to form, or continue, a positive relationship based on trust that will ultimately deliver better results, and reduce risk, for your institution and prospective international students.

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Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash