US Higher Education Act prohibits payment of commission for onshore student recruitment and this is something that Australia must do if it wants to end poaching of students from Universities to lesser colleges onshore.

According to the US’s 1992 Higher Education Act:

[An] institution will not provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in ensuring enrolments or financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance, except that this paragraph shall not apply to the recruitment of foreign students residing in foreign countries who are not eligible to receive federal student assistance. (20 USC §1094(a)(20))

The above clearly indicates that payment of commission to education agents recruiting students offshore is permitted while for students who are already onshore is not. This is the way it should be.

In my earlier blog ( ) I have argued for commission for onshore recruitment be banned or reduced in Australia and the logic for that was simply that the argument for payment for offshore student recruitment didn’t apply in the case of onshore recruitment. I had argued in that blog that…

Frankly none whatsoever that justifies engaging an “onshore” agent for a student who is simply changing institutions for the same or similar program of study. There is no visa to be done and if there is a need for visa extension, it is an easy process that a student is often assisted by the institutions itself. If the student needs assistance with this easy process, they may pay the migration agent a small fee. The onshore agency is not doing any background check on the student as that is not being required from an onshore student. The engagement of the onshore agent with the student is also very brief unlike that of offshore agent. It is simply that of filling up an application form and emailing to the institution. There is no accommodation services or pre-departure guidance. No verification of documents. And none of the onshore agents are equipped to assist in anything further.

Do read my previous blog to learn how the onshore agents actually bring in unethical conduct in the trade and the poaching that happens is from established Universities to lesser colleges generally and increasingly using means such as “cash-back’

Returning to the example of the US regulations, it is a myth that commissions are not permitted at all. Many institutions have believed that too. However, the fact remains that (and as in the reading of the Higher Education Act quoted above), it is clear that the prohibition on payment for student recruitment doesn’t apply on student residing in foreign lands.

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), with 11,000 individual members, essentially takes a page from the HEA in its Statement of Principles and Good Practices (SPGP) in stating that all members agree that they will: “Not offer or accept any reward or remuneration from a secondary school, college, university, agency, or organization for placement or recruitment of students.” In 2013, this statement was also refreshed to make a differential between onshore and offshore recruitment of students. To quote from the media reporting on the change to the SPGP:

The assembly of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or the NACAC, voted 152:47 to revise its Statement of Principles of Good Practice and to allow international recruiters to be paid financial incentives for each student they sign up – something US universities are prohibited by law from doing when they enrol domestic students.

And giving the example from the US, I strengthen the message from my earlier blog differentiating the role of an offshore education representative from that of an onshore agent.

An offshore agent is actually “a representative of the University representing the interest of the University in an overseas location where they are not present”. However, the onshore agent is actually “a migration agent double dipping as an agent of the student finding a program to suit the client’s migration intentions and is located in the same location as the Institution”.

This is a major differential and thus I am now making a case for the payment for the service of the agent be made by the recipient of the service which in the case of offshore markets is the University while in the onshore locations is the student and so in other words am asking for a ban (or reduction) on payment of commission for onshore recruitment activity altogether.

Do note that I am talking more of the students being poached during their first program of study and mostly within the first year of the study in Australia. In my further blog I will detail how many Universities in NZ are beginning to modify their contracts to allow commission for second or further programs but not midway of the first program and how the NZ student visa label too indicates the program of first study with the institution. These are good practises for Australia to learn from.


  1. Onshore agent market is highly polluted and has created mess. We have been raising this issue for many years. Transfer can be allowed only after graduation for which visa was granted. Transfer into fresh university and level, paying commission to onshore agents is not an issue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is what we all need to lobby for. If the Standard 7 of the ESOS is indeed changed (as expected) and then the likelihood is that onshore dubious agents will increase their poaching of the students. It will harm the industry generally and lower the standards. Unfair not just to offshore agents but also to the Universities that travel and promote Australia.


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