At the end of last year I posted about the serious allegations against  Beijing New Oriental Vision Overseas Consultancy (New Oriental) set out in an investigative piece by Reuters – (read the full post here).

Education agent management best practice documents generally say that when an institution has concerns about one of its agents it should review the relationship with the agent and take appropriate corrective action. In serious cases institutions may seek to terminate the relationship with the agent.

With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to try and get a handle on what action institutions have taken in response to the Reuters report.

Before I go any further let me just be clear that the allegations against New Oriental are just that – allegations. The company denies condoning or wittingly engaging in fraudulent activity.

There is a bit of a problem here though.  How would allegations of this kind ever be proven?  What is the process?

This is where the accrediting organisations have a role to play.

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The AIRC – which certifies agencies that recruit foreign students on behalf of U.S. colleges – certified New Oriental several years ago. In December 2016 Reuters also reported that the AIRC would conduct an investigation into the allegations.

When my search for further information on the AIRC investigation drew a blank I followed up with them and received the following response:

We are aware of the Reuters News Service report which mentions two AIRC-certified agencies.  In accordance with AIRC procedures respecting information secured from media reports, the affected agencies have been asked to provide information relevant to the content of the media reports.  AIRC staff will review the agencies’ responses and determine whether further investigation by the Certification Commission is warranted.   No inferences should be drawn from the fact that AIRC is undertaking this review.  Further information on the AIRC complaint process and treatment of information secured from media reports will be found at  http://www.airc-education.org/call-comments

So it seems like it will take some more time before the AIRC investigation delivers any further clarity.  That leads us back to where we started – working out what to make of serious, but as yet unsubstantiated, allegations against a large education agent.

What institutions choose to do in response is entirely a matter for them, but should be based on the clear and well considered policies and processes that underpin their education agent strategy.

At the very least an institution should be reassessing the agency relationship, and seeking further information from the agent to determine whether the relationship should continue.

So what have institutions actually done in response?

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It is difficult to get data to properly answer this question, but a simple Google search for “Beijing New Oriental Vision Overseas Consultancy” tells part of the story.  The first five pages of search results show plenty of institutions that are still working with New Oriental, or at least that still have New Oriental listed as a partner on their website.

 Here’s what we found:

It’s worth pausing here to make a couple of important points.

First, this list is just the tip of the iceberg.  I’ve only listed the institutions that appeared in the first 5 or 6 pages of the Google search results, so in that regard they are a bit unlucky to have been singled out. If we’d gone further through the results the list would have been much longer.

Second, before we move too quickly to judgement on these institutions let’s remember that the only reason we were able to see that New Oriental remains on their agents list is because they have actually published a list of agents on their website.  By listing their agents they have shown a commendable commitment to transparency. Many institutions do not list their agents, and so avoid scrutiny. (I recently posted on why institutions should list their institutions – read the full post here)

Third, the list includes lots of Australian institutions.  That’s because Australian law requires educational institutions to list their agents on their website.  Failure to do so is a criminal offence.

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So what do we make of this?

For the institutions listed above – and the many more that are not listed – there seems to be four possibilities:

  1. The institution considered the allegations against New Oriental and have decided to keep the agency agreement going.
  2. The institution has considered the allegations and decided to terminate or pause the relationship, and has simply not updated its agent list.
  3. The institution is aware of the allegations but has not had time to consider the appropriate action to take under its education agent management policies.
  4. The institution is unaware of the allegations.

Possibility 1 is perhaps understandable if an institution is awaiting resolution of the allegations, for example by making their own inquiries with the agent, or by waiting for the outcome of the AIRC investigation.

Possibilities 2, 3 and 4 are concerning because they may indicate that institutions – even those that have best practice education agent management policies in place – are facing real challenges in the implementation of best practice.

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