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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Manitoba: Diligence be Damned.

In December 2004 I was asked by the Province of Manitoba to come to Winnipeg and give a full day information session on how to work with education agents. My workshop’s main message was all about vigilance and diligence.

I was in India the last ten days of April (approximately my 100th visit to the country). My own trip came on the heels of a recent Manitoba education mission to India.

The Province took several of its institutions to Delhi, Punjab and Hyderabad. Despite most of its planned school visits and counselling sessions being either cancelled or falling flat with no attendance, it did manage to queue up plenty of Indian education agencies who were only too excited to work for Manitoba institutions.

We know the institutions are keen to get visa-fee paying bums in their seats. But why is the Manitoba government facilitating these arrangements with many Indian agents ? Have they not learned anything about the care and due diligence demanded of those one works with in South Asia? Is the Manitoba government complicit with the fraud and misrepresentation which Canadian visa officers will tell you is endemic to the Indian market ?

A week ago I sent one of my Indian managers to watch one of the biggest Indian agencies marketing its Canadian clients. It’s an agency where Manitoba institutions figure prominently.

The difference between a Canadian college and a university is “just the word,” said the leading spokesperson of one of India’s biggest agencies sending students to Canada. Why the lie to the Indian students and parents in attendance? Most of the agent’s clientele
are colleges, so that’s who you promote. Will Manitoba universities appreciate that portrayal? Apparently they are not too bothered, as the key sales pitch in India is a University of Manitoba foundation program, and they’ll even tell a mother of a 90% Grade 12 student they should do foundation. That’s right. The International College of Manitoba (ICM) instructed the mom (who is our staff) that such a super student should be in foundation, not directly in first year university. Why? Same reason as their Indian agent – that’s what they have to sell, and so be it, even if it’s a program designed to attract and support the weakest of students who are not eligible for direct admission to university.

Another lovely li(n)e from the agency was the pronouncement that post-grad diplomas at colleges were superior to Masters degrees at universities – due to better job prospects. Really? I’d be interested to hear what the University of Manitoba Faculty of Graduate Studies has to say about that. But when you are selling a hundred PGDs and not one Masters program, you go with your inventory, even if you have to invent the story.

How ironic that while this Manitoba Mission was courting agents in India, CBC Manitoba was reporting how Chinese students had been duped by their Chinese agent into paying absurd sums for a homestay in Winnipeg. The University of Winnipeg is taking steps to address the matter involving their students, and insuring that moving forward, its international student recruitment will have integrity. Meanwhile the Province is welcoming more education agents in well known high fraud and abuse markets to deliver Manitoba more students. It’s been eight years since I gave my presentation. I didn’t see any diligence then, and certainly not now.

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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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