Good education agents can create great outcomes for your institution and the international students they work with.
Unfortunately, working with education agents comes with risks. Shady agents – those who are unprofessional or dishonest – can cause huge damage your institution’s reputation, and student well being.
What should educational institutions do when faced with unprofessional or dishonest conduct by an education agent? What is best practice?
Working with agents – global approaches
Before diving in to this issue in detail – and the approach in different markets – it’s useful to recap the different approaches to education agent regulation across the main Anglophone international student destination markets. By “education agent regulation” we mean rules and/or practice relating to how educational institutions work with education agents.
The British Universities’ International Liaison Association report: “A Partnership for Quality: A route to a UK Quality Framework with Education Agents”, points out that regulation involves three aspects:
- Government legislation
- Sector-led approaches
- Institution-led approaches
In summary the education agent regulatory environment in the main English speaking markets looks like this:
- Australia & New Zealand – both countries have national legislation that imposes a range of obligations on educational institutions that work with education agents. Government agencies are responsible for supervising and enforcing compliance.
- Canada – there is no national legislation applying to the use of education agents. Manitoba is the only province to do so. The International Education Act (IEA) and its associated regulations came into force in Manitoba on 1 January 2016. The Ministerial Code of Practice and Conduct Regulation made under section 51(2) of the IEA includes a section on “Provider’s obligations re recruiters”. More information (including a Guide to the Code of Practice and Conduct Regulation for Manitoba Designated Education Providers, their Staff Recruiters and Contracted Agents is available on the Government of Manitoba website). Canada is not a signatory to the London Statement.
- USA – there is no federal regulation of education agencies or the manner in which institutions work with them. The US is not a signatory to the London Statement. The AIRC plays a role as an agent certification body and also issues guidance on best practice education agent management.
- United Kingdom – the regulatory environment in the UK was comprehensively covered in the British Universities’ International Liaison Association report: “A Partnership for Quality: A route to a UK Quality Framework with Education Agents”. In summary, there is no specific legislation focused on education agents, but the report concludes that the existing mix of non-specific legislation, sector-led approaches, and institutional frameworks provide a “solid base for the management of the education agent industry”.
Dealing with shady agents
So where do all of those international approaches land in terms of how educational institutions should deal with unprofessional or dishonest education agents?
Let’s start with the most highly regulated markets – Australia and New Zealand.
The National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 is a legislative instrument made under the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000. Standard 4 of the National Code covers education agents, and “sets out that registered providers must ensure that their education agents act ethically, honestly and in the best interests of overseas students as well as uphold the reputation of Australia’s international education sector.”
Registered providers must take immediate corrective action if they are aware that or believe the education agent or its employee or subcontractor, have not complied with the education agent’s responsibilities under Standard 4. Corrective actions may include providing education agents with additional information or targeted training on expectations of the agent.
If a provider becomes aware, or has reason to believe that an education agent is engaging in false or misleading recruitment practices, they must immediately terminate their relationship with the agent.
If the false or misleading recruitment practices were engaged in by an employee or subcontractor of the education agent, the registered provider must require the education agent to terminate its relationship with those individuals.
Registered providers must not accept students from education agents if they believe the education agent is engaging in unethical recruitment practices. This includes education agents that provide migration advice to overseas students when they are not authorised to do so under the Migration Act 1958.
Registered providers must not accept overseas students from education agents that engage in, or have previously engaged in, dishonest recruitment practices.
From 1 January 2022, New Zealand institutions educating international students will have to comply with a new code of practice for the pastoral care of international students.
The Education (Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Learners) Code of Practice 2021, is issued by NZ’s Minister of Immigration under section 534 of the Education and Training Act 2020. It will replace the existing code of practice, issued in 2016 and amended in 2019.
Section 59 sets out the following requirements:
Each signatory must –
- carry out and record reference checks on potential education agents to ensure as far as possible that they have not been involved in any conduct that is false, misleading, deceptive, or in breach of the law; and
- enter into written contracts with each of its education agents; and
- during the term of a contract, monitor the activities and performance of its education agents in relation to –
- their obligations as specified in the contract; and
- whether they provide international school learners with reliable information and advice about studying, working, and living in New Zealand; and
- whether they act with integrity and professionalism in their dealings with prospective international school learners; and
- whether they have engaged in any activity or conduct that, in the opinion of the signatory, is or may be in breach of the law or that jeopardises the signatory’s compliance with this code
4. manage the education agents by –
- terminating contracts with an education agent if there is evidence which, on balance of probabilities, shows that the agent –
- has been involved in any serious, deliberate, or ongoing conduct that is false, misleading, deceptive, or in breach of the law; or
- has jeopardised the signatory’s compliance with this code; or
- taking appropriate action to address conduct or an omission by an education agent in relation to the other matters described above.
Section 7(2) of the Ministerial Code of Practice and Conduct Regulation states:
- 7(2) A designated education provider must take reasonable steps to ensure that each of its recruiters acts with honesty and integrity and in furtherance of the interests of prospective international students.
- 7(3) A designated education provider must monitor and evaluate the recruitment activities of each of its recruiters on an ongoing basis.
Section 8 provides:
- 8(1) Before an agent can act as a recruiter for a designated education provider, the agent and the designated education provider must enter into a written agreement.
- 8(2) A designated education provider must not enter into an agreement with an agent without being reasonably satisfied that the agent is reputable and will be competent in discharging his or her obligations under this code and the agreement.
Section 9 provides:
- 9(1) A designated education provider must terminate its agreement with an agent if reasonably satisfied that the agent is failing or has failed to
- (a) act with honesty and integrity;
- (b) act in furtherance of the interests of the prospective international student; or
- (c) comply with The International Education Act.
US, UK and the rest of Canada
In the UK, US and Canada (other than Manitoba), there is no definitive guidance on the circumstances in which an institution should terminate its relationship with an agent. The British Council website, includes a report titled Managing International Student Recruitment Agents, which addresses a range of issues associated with the relationship between institutions and education agents, including the need for educational institutions to take strong enforcement action when necessary against unprofessional or dishonest agents.
What is best practice?
The approaches in Australia, NZ and Manitoba set out above are very similar in their focus on the requirement for decisive action by an institution when it becomes aware of unprofessional or dishonest conduct by an agent. Those models provide a good foundation for global best practice on shady agents.
How do I know if an agent is shady?
There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of an education behaving unprofessionally or dishonestly, but basic dues diligence can mitigate the risk. That means:
- seeking references from agents before entering into an agency agreement, and
- seeking feedback from your students who are enrolled through an agent.
You can also use the Agent Check service from AgentBee, which enables you to run a background check on new and current agents. The business intelligence database that underpins Agent Check contains hundreds of reports relating to agent performance and misconduct dating back to 2000. This is information not previously available to educational institutions and can be a valuable addition to your risk and assurance controls.