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Shady recruitment agents put students' future at risk

Two news reports this week show how students pay a heavy price for scams by unscrupulous recruitment agents hired by US universities
BY Braingain Staff Writer |   08-06-2016
View of Western Kentucky University on a winter night, photo by Luke Miles
Western Kentucky University (photo by Luke Miles, used under CC BY 2.0 licence)

For 25 Indian students in the computer science program at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the dream of graduating did not even last for one semester. On Monday, June 6, theNew York Times reported that the students were being forced to leave the university. The report said 40 of the 60 students in the program did not meet admission requirements, but some were being allowed to stay.

The problem seems to have arisen because the university ran an aggressive campaign to attract Indian students, for which it paid international recruiters based on the number of students they brought in. In theory, the 25 students could enrol in another university, but it is also likely that they may have to return to India. Student visas are generally associated with a particular program at a specific university, and if you cease to be enrolled, you cannot remain in the US.

Also on Monday, BuzzFeed reported its investigation into Northwestern Polytechnic University (NPU) in Fremont, California. The investigation followed news that Air India had prevented some students from boarding a flight to study at NPU and another school. According to BuzzFeed, NPU paid more than $1.7 million in 2014 to recruiters in India, but only spent $1.4 million (on a $40 million revenue) to staff the university.

BuzzFeed added that in 2015, 95% of NPU’s students were Indian, and paid fees of about $12,500 (Rs 8.4 lakh) a year. It said NPU fudged students’ grades so that nobody would question their loans and visas, and so that students with poor grades would not have to leave (as required by immigration authorities). The report said NPU’s former president personally fudged students’ grades, and the university had a policy that made it impossible for professors to fail students. The school had no full-time faculty at a time when enrolment was burgeoning.

NPU’s elaborate system of recruiting and retaining students not only enabled it to spend millions of dollars on buying homes (some of which were occupied by the family that owns the university), but also enabled many of its Indian students to get jobs in the US.

Such practices are being increasingly reported and investigated, some schools are being viewed with suspicion, and unscrupulous agents are being arrested. In April this year, US federal investigators arrested 21 brokers, recruiters and employers in a sting operation, after creating a fake university in New Jersey in 2013. Ten of the scammers arrested were Indian.

The worst fallout of it all is that many students’ lives are being ruined. News reports about the sting quoted US officials as saying that hundreds of Indian and Chinese students had been identified and would be dealt with by immigration authorities, meaning they could face deportation.

Students applying for higher studies abroad, especially in popular destinations such as the US, need to be careful to steer clear of shady recruiters and fake universities. Click here to read about protecting yourself from such scams.

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