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Monday, January 9th, 2012

Agents, America and more toothless regulations.

Last year “The Edge” asked if the self-appointed American organization regulating the ethical standards of education agents, is actually able to police its policies.

The American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) was in the spotlight last year, as the debate raged on over whether U.S universities should use recruiting agencies. Those who are adamantly opposed to the use of agents point to the well known abuses, fraud and exploitation of students and families, which are all commonplace in many countries and markets around the developing world. The AIRC says it certifies agents who get their stamp of approval for being above board. Yet of the listed certified agencies I personally had dozens of cases of students tell me first hand they were misled and exploited by agencies who are found on the AIRC accredited list.

Now, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Board of Directors of the AIRC has revised its compliance standards. The AIRC will require agents to be transparent about sub-contracting work to third-parties (even fourth and fifth parties is common), and says it is no longer permitted for agents to demand and claim portions of scholarships or financial aid the student receives. These new standards are effective immediately, but – agents already AIRC-certified may still operate under older standards, and are encouraged to be in compliance with the new rules. (Say what ? Yes, that’s what it says.)

When I first wrote of this in “The Edge” in May of last year, the blog was entitled “In conflict: Recruitment and Regulation in America.” Basically it asked the question, did the AIRC have any teeth in its attempts to ensure professional standards are met.

Now we know.

Can you imagine new regulations in place for the Security and Exchange Commission, but the SEC new regs are only for newcomers to the industry? Hey you – Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Citibank – you are encouraged to abide, but it’s your call. We’ll stick it to the newcomers though! I thought the concept of “grandfathering” is to prevent an injustice for those who, relying on previous regulations, would otherwise lose a rightful entitlement. It is an interesting twist to use grandfathering to enable the perpetuation by one party of its entitlement to exploit another (exploitation, only if you think as I do, that taking a percentage of an awarded scholarship or financial aid, is such).

The absence of AIRC teeth reminds me of when a Visa Manager in India told me an education agent had been caught red-handed for concocting fake documents. The Visa Manager called in the New Delhi police. The response from the higher educational institution which had contracted the agent ? Lay off our agent ! Clearly, all that mattered to the college was keeping its pipeline of international student revenues flowing and no heed to whatever the costs to government, i.e., taxpayers in fending off abusive applications.

Regulations need teeth, not numb gums which can’t take on, bite and and swallow anything tough. Except of course, integrity. That goes down real easy.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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