UK: ed dep’t to investigate bad practice in sector
The UK department of education is launching an investigation into bad practice associated with agents, a minister announced earlier this week.
The Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon, said he was “appalled to see the reporting over the weekend, which clearly showed bad practice in the use of agents”.
Halfon was referring to a news article which suggested that international foundation degrees – which are the equivalent to A-Levels – gave international students an unfair advantage over domestic students.
But it also picked up on malpractice by agents as well as questions around the international year one that give international students a pathway directly into the second year of bachelors degrees.
“[The bad practice] is not acceptable,” Halfon said in the House of Commons. “As I have said, I met Universities UK and the vice-chancellors yesterday and we are going to sort this out. There is an investigation by the Department for Education.”
Universities UK International has said that the use of agents “is standard practice globally” and that “high-quality agents and education counsellors can also play an important role in supporting prospective students”.
Together with BUILA, UKCISA and the British Council, in 2022 UUKi launched the voluntary Agent Quality Framework which is seeking to raise standards and share good practice.
By December last year, 28 early signatories had joined the formal pledge to follow the framework.
“We want to work with the government to see what more can be done to improve practice,” UUKi said earlier this week.
The sector has previously warned about unethical and bad practice within international student recruitment, including the use of fraudulent documents.
“We want to work with the government to see what more can be done to improve practice”
UKVI has previously itself said that it had seen a rise in student visa risk factors such as fraudulent documents and English proficiency but that the international student route is still generally compliant.
Countries such as Canada and Australia have already said they will review how agents are used in international education.
In Canada, the role of agents is set to be reviewed in the country’s new international education strategy, which is expected in April. Like in the UK, universities say that agents are an “important” part of the landscape and can be part of solutions.
Agent aggregator platform ApplyBoard is making a play to use its Attestation Letter Platform to help issue and verify letters that Ottawa is requiring all study permit applications to have under new measures announced on January 22.
Australia’s lawmakers have been urged that regulation of education agents is “essential and long overdue”. However politicians have previously acknowledged that regulation of actors overseas is difficult.
As part of reforms designed to protect the integrity of the international education system, it banned onshore agent commissions earned from student transfers between providers in the country last year.
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