Prime Minister Cameron slams “free ride to London” advert scampaign reemphasising the need for a code of conduct for education agents.

LONDON: U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday claimed an Indian organisation which made money out of sending migrants to Britain had put up a billboard in India with a picture of London’s red bus and a banner reading: “Get a free ride to London”. He cited this as an example of how “bogus” immigrants were “playing the system” to gain entry by masquerading as students or dependants of British families.

In a hard-hitting speech, Mr. Cameron said his government was determined to stop the “abuse” of the system by taking action “across all routes of immigration”. He said there was widespread abuse of student visas with people using them to come to Britain to find jobs. Many did not return to their countries after the visa expired. The billboard, he suggested, showed how getting to Britain had been reduced to a joke.

The above quote is from The Hindu of 15th April 2011 (see link) and the precise promotion was by an Indian education agency in Ahmedabad and covered in full detail in an earlier article in The Daily Mail (see link). The Daily Mail informs…

London’s iconic double-decker bus is at the heart of a scam in India selling bogus student visas for entry into the UK.

The red Routemaster-style bus emblazoned with the Union Jack, takes centre stage on a giant billboard in the Gujarat, in western India, for all to see.

The slogan accompanying the advert, which also features the capital’s famous Big Ben clock, brazenly declares: ‘Get a FREE ride to the UK. Apply for admissions, get your visas & fly FREE to London.’

Hop on: London's iconic double-decker bus is at the centre of a scam in India selling bogus student visas for entry into the UKAll aboard: London’s iconic double-decker bus is at the centre of a scam in India selling bogus student visas for entry into the UK
The striking advert has proved so popular hordes of people flocked to get a closer look at the deal in the city of Ahmedabad where the poster was on show. 
Visa anyone? People queue around the Indian London bus poster in Ahmedabad,GujaratVisa anyone? People queue around the Indian London bus poster in Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Now that the British Prime Minister has taken note of the advertising, it was interesting to note that the recently held All India Education Counsellors Meet of the British Council held a brainstorming session on the need for a code of conduct for education agents. This is something that I have been actively promoting in every education agent group that has engaged me in some role or another.

  • AAERI (Association of Australian Education Representatives in India) is the foremost leader in this development and armed with a Disciplinary and Quality Standards Committee, it has been actively promoting self-regulation and adherence to some basic norms. It is also available on its website.
  • NZSA (NZ Specialist Agents) too adopts a strict code of conduct for its members and its global agreement with is accredited members requires an undertaking of sorts from them to follow the code of conduct. The code of conduct sample agreement (see link) is a fine document and builds on to the AAERI norms too.
  • AIRC (American International Recruitment Council) too promotes a code of conduct for its members.

Britain is possibly the only major destination that has till date not thought of having a code of conduct for the education counsellors/agents. Now that British Council encouraged a debate on it, I would feel that something will emerge out. I presented the summary of the discussion to the audience at the 11th May meeting and the summary of the summary was that such a code is essential and critical. Education Providers were concerned that education agents often advertise their names on the adverts including indications their presence at exhibitions when that was not the case or even when they donot hold a contract with them. Words like “conditions apply” and “institutions vary from city to city” are used in fine print as an “unethical though legal” disclaimer. Hence it was recommended that British Council coordinates a code of conduct that all agencies working with education providers in UK must sign on in agreement and only those who agree with the code, be allowed to be listed on the Agent Zone of the British Council website and allowed to participate in British Council events. I really hope that this will happen soon.

We need to not just protect the students but need to protect the industry too.

I had done an earlier blog with relevance to this one too. I invite you to my confession on the low quality advertising that I too have undertaken ! The blog being “Overseas Education Agents” following “Computer Training Institutes”

Before I close this blog, a quick comment on the Free Ride to London advert: Honestly, I find it quite ingenious and feel that the British PM has actually missed the catch. The agency is using a marketing and smart advertising to actually only offer a free airticket and not an easy migration to UK. I may not agree with this advertising and maynot undertake it myself but would argue that it is no different to the bursaries that UK offers to Indian students which are offered in abundance and unrelated to merit of the applicants. Both are simple discounts and marketing baits…

7 Comments

  1. Hi Ravi,

    The bigger picture is:

    1. It has been more than a year since the Ahmedabad agents community had drafted a model which is self regulated but there has been no reply from BHC, BC or the UKBA so far.

    2. All the students who went to the U.K are legitimate students and none of them had crossed the border illegally. It is the Education provider in the U.K which had taken a short term view and had failed to deliver the quality and the promise.

    3. The real problem is more in the U.K and less in India.

    4. The picture that you have posted is not of Ahmedabad VFS….there are no such green trees near Ahmedabad VFS.

    The short term UKBA policy has tarnished the brand image of the “U.K Education” which had been built over the years and decades. Hence, the U.K Govt has no reason to complain when there are strategical failures in their own policies.

    Regards,

    Rahul

    Like

    1. Hi Rahul,

      The picture posted is of Planet Education’s hoarding in Ahmedabad near British Council, Law Garden. The whole point was that it was done in 2007 -2008 where we had a clear agreement with Jet Airways and since they had started their Ahmedabad – London flight they wanted us to do some promotions alongwith our event.

      There is nothing wrong in the ad. We are not saying that we are issuing visas or anything. It is very clear. It is a free ride to london since we were issuing tickets of Jet Airways from Ahmedabad to London.

      If people like David Cameron dont look at the picture properly before commenting then things like this would happen and would be called false advertising.

      He better look at the kind of institutions they are allowing to spring up in and around london before they point their fingers on adverts and the way they are done.

      I say its smart advertising not false advertising.

      Like

      1. Ashok and Rahul, My concluding paragraph in the article does indicate what is being commented by you. I agree that this was not to aid illegal migration as has been commented by the Prime Minister and certainly the intelligence provided to him is incomplete.
        There is a need for a code of conduct for education agents and also for private education providers… Agents often are easy scapegoats too.
        One good thing is that the newspaper article covered the name of the agent on the hoardings and didnot name it. However, the biggest gain is that there is a debate on the need for a code of conduct and the recent British Council meet is an evidence of the same…

        Like

  2. Raviji

    I fully agree with you on this.

    The British media take it totally wrong and British PM should not trust media coverage blindly. We should support our friends from industry in such case and raise this point to British Council and British Media (If possible).

    Regards
    Rupesh Patel

    Like

    1. This is the reason for my last paragraph. In absence of any code for advertising that prohibits such marketing baits, the indication that this advert leads to illegal migration is misplaced. There is a need for a code of conduct and that is the larger point.

      Like

  3. Hi Everyone,

    I had always known that UK will land itself in trouble when they changed the policy with one day balance. It was a road to doom. My driver whom I used to pay Rs.5000 per month was able to send his younger brother 12th. fail to UK’s some college who’s fees were only 1500 pounds. He got valid visa and as far as I know he is still in UK. I totally agree with Rahul that it was the fault of UKBA allowing doggy colleges to musroom. Agents are never doggy it is the providers who come out with atractive commission structures and ask for volume. What we have seen in UK and Australia one will soon see in NZ. With the hoarding put up by Planet I don’t see anything wrong. It is catchy.
    Ravi what you are talking about regulation or code of Conduct , No one wants to form unless it is forced upon.

    Like

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