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.