Regulating Overseas Education Agents! NONE OF INDIA’s BUSINESS.

MY FOREMOST QUESTION to any country that expects India to regulate their education agents: WHY SHOULD INDIA REGULATE AGENTS WORKING AND EARNING FOR ANOTHER NATION?

First lets get one fact right. We are NOT talking of regulating “Indian” Education Agents BUT “Australian Education” Indian Agent or “UK Education” Indian Agent or likewise “NZ Education…” or “US Education…”

An understanding of the above will clarify whose role it is to regulate these agents. The education agents may or maynot be Indian organizations irrespective of whether they belong to the organized sector or unorganized sector. Why I say “maynot” because in the organized sector there are a number of operators who are branches of companies registered in the destination country and in the unorganized sector there are many who are sub-agents/franchises of agencies legally allowed in the home country of the providers such as subagents working for onshore migration consultants. Hence to expect India to do the policing for them is another Red Herring. And attempts of subtly tell India to set its own house in order before commenting on the goings-on in another country. Completely unacceptable!

The agents are not working in isolation and this is my even greater reasoning. They are contracted by overseas education institutions who are legally permitted and regulated entities and their agreements with their agents is legally valid too. Hence, the institutions are responsible for their agents. If an institution feels that the agent is unethical, they should immediately terminate the agreement. Interestingly, whether it is the ESOS Act in Australia, National Code in NZ or similar provisions in UK, US or Canada; they all place the accountability for the actions of the agents totally in the hands of the institutions who are expected to undertake due diligence before appointment. Now, the fact is that all these destination countries don’t display promptness in applying their regulations on the education providers in their homeland. The governments in these countries, when a problem arises, look out for scape-goats located outside their land so that the issue can be buried or has no local political considerations. Why should India be asked to do their dirty laundry?

Even while scape-goats have been found in private providers and education agents, I quote in agreement from the opinion in the linked article of Mike Riddiford of 10th March on the local government’s role in the current mess in some of the countries. The dirty laundry belongs to a number of parties including the Government. No Holy Cows here…or “cash cows”.

In recent months some news reports and commentators have painted a fairly lurid picture of the private vocational education market. A few key ideas appear repeatedly: immigration back doors, dodgy colleges, unscrupulous agents and victimised students.

The reality is far more complex.

The idea that vocational education represents a back door to immigration (as some commentators have described it) is nonsense. The previous federal government established an explicit link between immigration and education. The education sector, public and private, merely responded to the business opportunities that policy created (something government, presumably, anticipated and hoped for). The different recent political rhetoric should not obscure this fact.

The allegation of dodgy colleges also needs to be unpacked. Reading some reports, one may imagine that opening a college is akin to selling wares at a local trash and treasure market: just book a stall and start selling product.

In fact, all private colleges have to navigate a complex approvals process (at the federal level) and are subject to ongoing and extensive procedural and financial audits by state regulators. The overwhelming majority of private colleges have complied with all these regulatory requirements.

The role of education agents, too, has come in for much criticism. While no doubt justified in some cases, in other cases the agents have been victims of sophisticated fraud, involving a prospective student’s financial standing and-or work experience.

As with any business, agents have a healthy economic interest in repeat business so are hardly likely to prosper in the medium term by misrepresenting educational opportunities to students.

The best agents, in fact, perform a vital service, helping students and colleges connect in the marketplace, assisting international students settle in Australia and giving useful feedback to parents about the student’s academic and social progress.

No study, for instance, has been produced to show that private college graduates are anything but as competent as their fellow students in the public sector, yet allegations of bought degrees and fake certificates persist.

Almost by accident, and in relatively short order, a substantial industry has been created. Millions of dollars have been invested, thousands of staff employed and tens of thousands of students have been trained and graduated. It’s worth recalling that it was only in the 1990s that vocational education was opened up to private providers. Before that, a public-sector monopoly prevailed. Returning to that situation would not only be a policy reversal of historic proportions but, given government budget realities, would be a policy doomed to failure.

The international private education sector has, in banking parlance, become “too big to fail”; there is simply too much at stake for too many people. Yet fail it will unless all stakeholders – students, providers, agents and regulators – get together to create a sustainable future for this vital export industry.

India is not the country earning from the appointment or the act of the agents. It is the destination country that earns and which treats the income from the international students as Trade and Forex inflow.  Expecting India to fund for regulating the trade intermediaries of alien countries is gross in my personal opinion. Fair Go please.

Minister Sibal, I am delighted to learn that when Australian Minister Smith proposed that India regulates the education agents, you acted swiftly in putting the ball back in the Aussie court. Well done, sir. I expect UK too to take note as they too are grumbling about the conduct of the agents of their institutions.

I quote from Minister Sibal’s recent media release:

With regard to the desire expressed by the Australian side to develop a set of principles for the regulation of education agents recruiting Indian students to study abroad, Shri Sibal requested the Australian side to provide to the Indian side, a list of education agents signed up by Australian institutions.

While it sounds simple and one may think that a country can easily furnish this demand for the list of accredited agents, it is the precise problem itself. If Australia or any other country can really produce a list that they can accredit and which they can keep regulating, managing and updating on a daily basis, it will be a huge achievement on its own and will put an end to all the confusion.

If there is an act of fraud or misrepresentation, the destination country could then “turn the tap-off” by blacklisting the agent and that would by itself be the biggest deterrent. Worse, if there is a need for police action, then the Indian Penal Code already allows it under section 420. As indicated earlier, consumer protection act and also advert norms are far advanced than in many countries and I am proud of this.  Recently at a meeting with a few reputed education agents, the Immigration officer for another education destination shared that they are encountering high level of fraud at Indian Banking institutions where the managers are clearly involved. What surprised me that this is not reported even to the head office of that bank in most cases, let alone to the Indian police. Asking Indian Government to check fraud, without providing intelligence that only their visa offices are privy to, is just not going to lead to a solution.

In some countries, the Migration Agents lobby groups have immediately jumped into the fray and put out proposals that they be allowed to regulate education agents. The governments should not bite this bait because it is precisely the incompetence in regulating the migration agents that the problems have arisen. The proposal for example of MIA is weak as they only focus on professional competence in terms of knowledge of education agents by requiring agents to be listed on QEAC database. QEAC database is a listing of education agents who have cleared the EATC and does-not say anything on the integrity. The regulations for the alien government has limited reach in India and it would be ideal to ONLY work with and in strengthening the Industry self-regulating bodies such as AAERI in India. AAERI is a successful model that should be aped  and if there are weaknesses, should be addressed. AAERI, now not just requires all its members to be on QEAC but also requires all its members to undertake third party integrity checks. The advertisements are monitored and I can say confidently that all the AAERI members are more or less abiding by the advertising codes and also schedule of charges. Wherever there is a genuine and substantiated complaint, it is taken up and the erring member is warned, suspended or even terminated from the industry body. This has been a huge deterrent.

To be fair to the education destinations, they have initiated a number of agent regulating or self-regulating initiatives including AAERI (for Australia), NZSA (for NZ), AIRC (for Americans) and also professional development training courses such as UK British Council certifications for counselors apart from the PIER run and Aus Gov recommended EATC. This is the way forward. Self-Regulating Industry Bodies in today’s world is far better than policing by a third party.

For Migration and Immigration agents, India already has a system of regulating them under Ministry of Labour and also Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and is tightening the regulations further. In the case of Immigration, the person engaging the agent is an Indian national who also pays for the service to another Indian national and the service are being delivered in India. Hence the role of the Indian Government is paramount. This is contrary to what happens in the case of education agents.

My immediate expectation from Minister Sibal is…

Sir, you are to visit Australia in April and you must engage with Australia in terms of developing the Vocational Education Infrastructure in India. TAFE and some Private providers in Australia are the only ones who can deliver quality education to equip the future Indian workforce in the areas like Mining, Nursing, Teaching and in-fact in all trade skills. Their interest can lie in the fact that at some time in future such Indians can also meet their manpower shortages enabling a globalised world. Indian Australians and also India look forward to your visit with a lot of expectations. Please do not let any RED HERRINGS distract your focus down under.

Bon Voyage.

19 Comments

  1. Ravi,

    The televised SBS show in Australia, “four corners” in July 09, had shown unethical advt published in Australia. Such advts can’t be imagined of being published by an AAERI member in India. This further proves that AAERI members in India abide more to the ESOS act in India, then an Australian agent in Australia.

    Frankly, AAERI’s achievement is impeccable and is the strongest deterrent to its members to follow the AAERI’s code of conduct. This further regulates the Industry and the student community is benefited at large. Such achievements are intangible in nature and impossible to put in figures or numbers.

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    1. Rahul, I do think that AAERI is being recognised… However the point of this blog actually is to bring about some sense in all the scape-goating that is going around. Indian quality education agents are sick and tired of being called “illegal” by all including the media when they are fully legal and also regulated. The organised sector is more organised than even some of the private institutions and more regulated too. Adverts are scrutinised and correcting actions taken… The new norms are fantastic. Time to bell the cat..

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    2. Do agree with Rahul that “AAERI’s achievement is impeccable and is the strongest deterrent to its members to follow the AAERI’s code of conduct.” Yes we have or have taken steps for Self-Regulating ourselves or this Industry. But we must also include one more important point in this agenda. We must have a process of regulating foreign institutes who have vested interest in India or want to enrol Indian students. When Australian perk bodies talk about regulating Indian agents operating in India then why not regulate institutes as they are the ones that benefit the most out of all our exercise

      I remember reading some where “Bad Governance does not discriminate; in fact it ill treats every one equally.” We can see this clearly in the Australian visa policy which made it nearly impossible for a good postgraduate student to opt to study in Australia. Funds still play a major role and for a middle class or higher middle class Indian its impossible to meet the financial criteria. If we analyze this in depth we will see the reality for the rise of doggy agents, bank fraud or providers. The kind of students Australia has attracted in the past few years is really pathetic. But they invited them.

      After all this Falsehood / Ignorance still prevails

      We should seriously talk about these facts (or wrong policies) with the authorities. All of us have been seriously hurt today, we were helpless and had no control over the media reports, but now we need to express these facts and come with a clinical approach. In this way we will all be honest with ourselves our business or our associations. If we shut our eyes, ears from reality, then we will invite more pain and destruction. Then the governing body of AAERI will need to give more blood or sweat

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  2. Ravi, I think AAERI already has a respectable place with Australian policy makers and education providers. Whenever there is a mention of “illegal or rogue agents”, it is not targeted at a specific body or agent, but in generalised terms. And we cannot deny the fact that there aren’t any “illegal or rogue agents” in India. They exist in all countries, including Australia.

    Rahul is right in saying that advertisements in Indian magazines and newspapers go unchecked and they certainly do not seem to follow ESOS Act. Despite the publicity on ABC program (4 corners), nothing has been done to tackle the issue. Ads shown on the TV program are still continuing. Example of some ads:

    *Weekend classes guaranteed
    *900 hrs work experience guranteed
    *No exams
    *Pathway to PR
    *Students get a bonus of $250-500 if changing institute through us
    *If student refer their friends, the student and their friends receive bonus of $250 each

    Most private providers now offer upto $1000 discount to students who come to them directly. This is to avoid the agent and associated commission. The word spreads like a wild fire and suddenly every student is demanding a bonus or fee discount.

    It will be a good idea for AAERI to develop a training program for its members whereby consistency in standards is applied across every member agency. SOmething like integrity checks, file management, accounts management, ethics etc. It also should have a CPD program for existing members so that they can keep themselves updated.

    With AAERI doing its part in India, there is also a need of similary body in Australia (not necessarily MIA because of the conflict of interest). MA, another body, has already opposed this.

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    1. There is a definite need for a SELF REGULATING INDUSTRY AGENT ASSOCIATION in Australia that has DEEWR backing. Bruce Baird’s recommendation includes banning of commissions for onshore recruitment and this needs to be clarified to the DEEWR. Not all onshore recruitment is bad and this needs spelling out.

      This role cannot be fulfilled by MIA especially when the thrust is to delink education with migration. An education counsellor needs more to be a career counsellor in today’s australia and not necessarily a lawyer. QEAC gives the information but integrity is key.

      Career Counsellors are needed for domestic and international students.

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      1. Ravi,

        How will you counsel students if they have queries relating to their Permanent Residency options in Australia? 95% queries are related to their further stay in Australia.

        Higher Education (573) courses should have higher English requirements (6.5 IELTS minimum or 6 with 20 weeks ELICOS) and they should not be allowed to changed to 572 (even after 6 months). This will ensure that only genuine students enter Higher Ed sector and they stick to their course or level of study. It should be made AL 3 too. Universities should offer discounts or scholarships to deserving candidates. Till now, it has been more of a “business” rather than offering opportunities for deserving candidates.

        Partnership with AAERI is a good option for offshore recruitment. However, the process should be more transparent and improvements required. This will take months and as Ravi said, students will lose interest for Australia. The revival wave will be in about 5 years time I think. Can Aus Edu Industry afford that?

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      2. Just read in one of the education consultant’s website:
        “We are an Indian Government Authorized Private limited International Education and immigration Consulting Firm, recognized by leading Global Colleges, Universities worldwide by direct partnership agreements with these institutions as well as by association /co-operation agreements entered into with these Colleges, Universities Representatives. ”
        The website says that they are “Indian government authorized ” – don’t know what that means ????
        Yes we all feel that there is a need to regulate this industry. But again will it every happen and if it happens who will set the guidelines or policies for this.
        My opinion is that all overseas institutes must be regulated first; every institute that has vested interest in Indian students must be regulated, which will set this industry in the right path

        Nishi

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        1. Ha Ha Ha. Indian Government Authorised Private Limited…

          Indian Government could-not check IIPM despite several details in public space. Look up the current issue of Careers-360 and you will find more details.

          India and any other country should first regulate its own institutions. The institutions have to take the responsibility for their agents.

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  3. Dear Ravi, Rahul and all,

    I congratulate Ravi to take up right topic at right time.

    We observed in last few years, “agents” became main easy target for anything happening in International Education front. AAERI is doing wonderful role, even updating requirements while looking at present need is one of right move.

    I fully agree with Ravi that its respective countries role to look into working with agents in India before and after appointing them but still feel we need to first set our own ethical standards of working for all agents in India (other than AAERI members also) and strictly follow same to all to clear any gray area and make “others” to difficult to blame without any valid reasons. I also feel this is really difficult task to achieve.

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    1. My information is that the changes to ESOS Act will result in Universities being asked only to work with AAERI members… This is a big development and needs celebration. This will ensure that the agent has a limit to what he charges and has also agreed to a code of ethics.

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  4. Australians must regulate the regulators who have vast authority with little accountability. Today the closure of some colleges and compliance in student visas are examples of this. Education agents have become an easy prey to every one. The authorities in Australia must regulate their own institutes which have been encouraging doggy / fraud / rouge institutes and these have given birth to doggy agents. Australia has some excellent policies but there is a serious lapse in its implementation. If the implementation is proper at their end at least now the agent industry will anyhow get regulated. In fact the lapse of implementation of some policies on education providers in Australia is the root cause of doggy education agents in India or else where.

    DIAC have been warned about the misuse of their systems including e-visa access by me (or us) several times in the past, but our warnings have always been ignored; today the problems we see are results of yesterday’s short sighted solutions of the Aussie authorities. Honest agents are a problem to Australian economy as student numbers will be very less from these honest agencies.

    The procedure by which Assessment Levels and countries have been diagnosed in the past needs to be rectified. Students going for higher studies like postgraduates study or research must be given easier opportunity or should have easier visa norms. The root cause of bank fraud in India is the policy itself

    Time to accept the facts and move forward now, its already late but can be rectified at least.

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  5. Rahul / Ravi

    ESOS Act is a fantastic piece of legislation in Australia and authorities have been dilly-dallying about this for a long time now, but what they did not notice is the fact that there was a serious breach of this act by many providers. ESOS has NOT been followed and result is what we are seeing today. The racism theory (or the Red herrings) in fact opened their eyes. Recently we saw that MIA proposed to regularize offshore agents, this can also be taken as a joke, for me it looks like their solutions are worse than the actual problems. I feel its a plan to cover up, it’s a plan to encourage dishonesty or a way to legalize dishonesty. Instead the inshore agents and institutes should be made more accountable. For Example the articulations which were granted to Diploma courses by many universities in the past (don’t you think this was also a serious and major issue which caused all this), so private providers, universities and every other person or organization involved in student recruitment had a role to play in this. QAEC or any other trainings or memberships are only credentials which don’t actually talk about honesty and have policies to monitor agent activities on a day to day basis. But again we have the hard and strict Australian policies which are encouraging dishonesty all over. Well these are my thoughts which I felt like expressing

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    1. MIA is not the right body for education agent regulations. The effort is on to delink Migration with Education and hence I donot foresee that MIA will get what it is desiring. They are just trying to grapple at something that they can get…

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  6. This industry is so corrupted, you only have to talk to the students from Punjab in NZ how they got here, they will tell you all the dodgy deals themselves, marketing managers in this industry enjoy more freedom and wealth then working in any sector. There is systematic corruption. It won’t be long all will collapse.

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  7. http://www.deewr.gov.au/Ministers/Gillard/Media/Releases/Pages/Article_100408_141605.aspx

    Australia Consolidates Educational Links with India

    Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, and India’s Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, today signed a Joint Ministerial Statement to build on the cooperative ties between the two nations in the education sector.

    The Joint Ministerial Statement confirms Australia and India’s commitment to expand the current education exchange program to achieve greater cooperation between the two countries’ schools, higher education, vocational education and training sectors.

    The aim of the Ministerial Statement is to strengthen what is already a solid partnership with the Indian Government and open up more avenues to share expertise in the education arena.

    Today’s meeting was the result of a commitment made in New Delhi last August to start an annual dialogue between the two Ministers.

    Leading education providers and businesses both in Australia and India will also participate in the discussions, providing an opportunity for all levels of the industry to consider ideas and share expertise.

    The Ministers also agreed to investigate the establishment of an India-Australia Education Council to improve collaboration on education-related issues.

    The Council would consist of academics, policy-makers and industry representatives and will be tasked to explore new partnership opportunities in key fields such as skills demand and education resources.

    Ms Gillard took today’s meeting as an opportunity to officially congratulate Minister Sibal and his Government on their Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 which came into affect in India on April 1.

    The Act makes education a fundamental right for all Indian children between the ages of six and 14.

    One of the key challenges Minister Sibal and his Government now face is the recruitment of up to 800,000 new teachers to fulfil the aims of the act.

    The Australian Government today confirmed our commitment to help provide assistance to Indian institutions with teacher training initiatives. Australian providers are also looking forward to the opportunity for increase involvement once the Indian Government had passed their Foreign Education Institutional Bill.

    Building on the 135 institutional partnerships already in place between the two countries, there was agreement today to initiate a Joint Faculty Development program. This will allow for regular exchanges in mutual areas of teaching, research and curriculum development.

    Australian representatives from the VET industry are also working with their Indian counterparts on the establishment of an Australia/ India Bureau designed to assist with the development of the Indian VET system.

    The Joint Ministerial Statement is available at http://aei.gov.au/AEI/GovernmentActivities/GovernmentRelations/BilateralRelationships/default.htm.

    The Statement supplements the Education Exchange Program between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Republic of India on Cooperation in the Fields of Education and Training, which is available at http://aei.gov.au/AEI/GovernmentActivities/GovernmentRelations/BilateralRelationships/India_mou_2_pdf.pdf.

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