Fifth Estate, Canada’s equivalent of ABC’s Four Corners, recently asked “how far are international students willing to go to get an education in Canada.” – the report was a devastating watch for those in in international education . Watch it HERE.

Students lied to, being over-enrolled and deferred, being taken advantage of, housing and living concerns – it had it all.

At the centre of the programme’s concerns were student recruitment practices – the start of the student journey from being interested in studying abroad to commencing. The consequences of getting it wrong severely impact the later stages. And  “agent aggregators”,  connecting schools, students, and recruitment partners from every part of the world, featured.

An agent aggregator is typically driven by a software system where it brings together many in-country agencies that may not have a direct agreement with a university or institution. By doing so it allows these agents to channel applications through to  an institution via the aggregator agreement. The aggregator should quality assure the application and institutions should have oversight of the process.

Ravi Lochan Singh, Managing Director of Global Reach and President of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India who was interviewed for the programme shares a number of concerns highlighted by Fifth Estate.

The first is that education is still being sold as a direct link to a migration pathway. “Canadian colleges have been sold primarily as a way to reach Canada and for those who are solely looking for a migration pathway. Many students who choose overseas destinations consider the post study work opportunities and settlement options but in the case of Canada, this seems to be the sole consideration.”

The second is qualification transportability. Singh states, “not many would know that those who study at [select] Canadian colleges may receive a qualification that may not always meet the recognition in India as they are often at less than a degree level and also not at a university. The duration of the postgraduate programs is also, in many cases, not suitable for equivalence in India.”

The third concern is registration and compliance. “As was highlighted in the programme, these colleges are recruiting several times more students than the capacity they are registered for and are totally reliant on Indian students,” Singh said.

So what’s the beef with agent aggregators?

According to Singh “education institutions have no oversight on the type of counselling being offered.”

He says “counselling agents have rarely, if ever, been contracted by the institution but work through the aggregator. This means that there is absolutely no accountability. As was highlighted in the broadcast, all the agencies found during their investigation were recruiting students through the aggregator.”

CMM spoke Elaine Starkey, the CEO of Global Study Partners (GSP), an Australian agent aggregator which has been operating since 2015

Elaine said she found the program very distressing. “The key issue, for me, is that the student experience is becoming less holistic in Canada.

In part, this is because Canada has not adopted a code of ethics and regulatory frameworks such as those in Australia, NZ, UK, and Ireland. It also has to do with accountability. Frameworks such as the ESOS Act and National Code help ensure accountability is applied to all stakeholders involved in the international student recruitment process. These frameworks support diligent screening processes in the student’s course application. Education agents are required to meet strict criteria in matching courses to student suitability via the counselling process. Colleges and institutions also play a key part in ensuring the health and well-being of international students.”

As for the model, Starkey says “we see ourselves as an enabler, not an aggregator, focused on transparent screening, and empowering access to give students choices. Through our screening processes and quality control, we create a mechanism that supports all stakeholders with the necessary support to conduct fair, ethical, and appropriate options for student choice. By leveraging national regulatory frameworks, GSP works with ethical, screened agents and institutions to ensure information, support and post-study well-being form a holistic experience for international students. We are unique in that we share (and often introduce) our agent partners information with our institution partners. It is also important to note that the aggregator and/or aggregation model is not to blame. This model is the same as the master agent model that has existed for 20 plus years but with a digital capacity to track all elements of the student recruitment lifecycle and our model offers greater diversity to our institution partners.”

One quote from Fifth State program stands out. It is from Mandeep Singh from Khalso Aid in Brampton, Ontario. He says “the recruitment system is built on quantity, not quality. We should not be selling ourselves on what is the easiest way, what’s the fastest way, what’s the cheapest way, it should not be part of the determination. Let’s get the best of people internationally, bring them in so we can build a strong Canada.”

Quite right. Quality needs to be at the centre of the offer and followed through with quality and transparent systems to support and underpin student success.

Dirk Mulder advises education and business clients on trends in international education. He writes regularly for CMM.  He consulted to GSP when it started in 2015. 


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