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Lack of trust and risk to reputation: Why US universities avoid using recruitment agents

US universities and colleges are more cautious in using student recruitment agencies than their counterparts in other countries, according to a recent survey
BY Skendha Singh |   22-09-2016

The past few months have been punctuated with frauds in international education. Western Kentucky University forced Indian students to leave after discovering that they did not meet admission requirements; Air India prevented students bound for the fake Northwestern Polytechnic University from boarding; New Zealand deported 150 Indian students saying their credentials were fake. Agents and counsellors have features prominently in all these instances of fraud. For example, the 150 Indian students  in New Zealand claimed they did not know that agents had faked their credentials.

The frequency of such headlines seems to be growing. Given this trend, Bridge Education Group & StudentMarketing collaborated on researching the pace of adoption of international student recruitment agencies by US institutions.

131 US universities and 343 student recruitment agencies across the world have participated in their preliminary research. The surveyed universities account for approximately 93,000 international students. According to the preliminary report, 54% of the surveyed US institutions were aware of bad practices because of the media, 39% were aware because of another university or college, and 23% had a bad first-hand experience themselves. Strangely, 23% were unaware of any bad experiences at all.

An anonymous responder told the researchers, “Fraud is the number one reason it is still difficult to get US Higher Education colleagues to agree to consider the use of agents. It is real, it is challenging and it is going to continue to be an issue...”

The report reveals that in comparison with countries like Australia, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand, the US is cautious when it comes to actively engaging with agents for international student recruitment. While Australia recruits almost 62% of its international students through agents, the US is at only 22%. Two major reasons  for this conservative number, according to respondents, were – lack of trust (36% of responding US universities cited this as the main reason), and also reputational risk.

In countries like Australia and Canada, where agents and counsellors are grabbing a major share in the international student recruitment business, there are strict regulations in place to monitor and guide their activities. Australia introduced the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act in 2000 to protect the rights of international students. Perhaps, most importantly, Australian law mandates that every partnering agent must undertake the Education Agent Training Course to be listed in the Qualified Education Agent Counsellors (QEAC) database. Put simply, Australia has many checks and quality control measures in place to prevent frauds and scams which put a student’s future at risk.

In the US, on the other hand, as the report reveals, the universities are not equipped with the necessary knowledge, in terms of best practices, quality management, or internal infrastructure to achieve similar results.

However, the adoption rate is steadily increasing even in the US. Today, 37% of US universities work with international agents. And, in the absence of a coherent policy to govern and license this relationship, the report states that the ultimate responsibility is still with the universities and colleges. The report states, “several respondents stressed that it is easier to build an agent network than the infrastructure needed to support it.” In these circumstances, the importance of the media’s role – in exposing scam and issuing caution, is underlined by the report. As one of its anonymous respondents said -

“The more exposure the media brings to charlatan agents, their victims and the schools who engage the charlatans, the better.”

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You can read the full report here.

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