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Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Regulating Education Agencies, Does Canada need the same?

The American International Recruitment Council (AIRC) was born of an interest amongst U.S. educational institutions to create a system for approving overseas education agencies.

In the U.S., unlike Canada, and in large part due to the particularities of the U.S. system in regards to government financing of domestic students, the issue has been playing out as “either/or”: ban the use of commission-based agents entirely, i.e., make illegal the very practice (a firm legal proviso viz. recruiters of domestic students) or enable them, and thanks to the initiative of the AIRC, regulate them. While the “ban” option remains under study by at least one prominent U.S. non-governmental organization, a great many U.S. institutions are using commission-based education agencies without necessarily joining the AIRC or using those agencies licenced by it.

Canada has an element of regulation. This is via Citizenship and Immigration Canada in how it governs agencies which take fees to submit Study Permit applications on behalf of prospective, and supposed, student applicants. It is early to evaluate relatively new regulations on the extent they are having some disciplining effect.

What are some of the key issues? The following are amongst the prominent issues that trouble institutions and immigration authorities alike.

The first of two categories can largely be said to be ethical in nature.

  • Fabricating documents (identity, education, financial).
  • Arranging for fake exam writers (e.g. GMAT, and the like).
  • Preparing statements of purpose or personal essays for a candidate.
  • Steering students to an institution on the basis of financial interest to the agency rather than students’
    best interests.
  • Financial exploitation such as charging fees not authorized by the licencing institution, or outrageous
    fees, or variations such as taking percentages of scholarship awards.
  • Taking fees and not disclosing that fees are also being paid by the institution.

The second category can largely be said to be about competence in nature. There is an extensive class of shortcomings such as a lack of real knowledge of counselling itself, of the institutions being counselled about, of the country, or city in question. Basically, this category is about shortcomings that lead to poor advice.

So are Canadian institutions troubled by these risks? Some. There are a few institutions, universities mainly, who simply avoid these risks by not working with agents. But the reality is, the majority of Canadian universities, and nearly all its colleges work with education agencies. A further reality is that some of these very agencies even commit the most egregious of the offenses – fabricating documents. Just ask Canadian visa officers.

My point is not to fault institutions if this transpires, my point is to fault them if they are not doing diligence before engaging such institutions and continuous diligence to ensure that the aforesaid standards of the institution are being upheld.

In sum, while the question of whether regulating education agents is a worthy undertaking, from an institutional perspective the first question should be: is all being done that should and can be done to ensure agency arrangements adhere to the institution’s own academic and ethical standards? I was told by one party in a larger Canadian university about one education agency arrangement it entered into: “We are holding our nose” I was told. Hearing no evil is no answer. Smelling no evil is no better.

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About Dani

Dani 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 international and human rights lawyer and holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Toronto Law School.

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