A group of countries that are some of the most popular destinations for international students are acting to improve the integrity of education recruitment agents.
The move aims to ensure that students receive a better service when they use agents to help them apply for school, college or university places overseas.
Education officials from the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have issued a joint statement of principles for ethical international student recruitment, following talks in London in March 2012 hosted by the British Council.
The “London Statement” stresses the need for professionalism and ethical responsibility on the part of the commission-based agents who help many schools, colleges and universities to recruit international students.
In some countries’ education systems the use of recruitment agents is almost universal.
A small number of agents and consultants have been accused of unethical or even illegal conduct, causing problems both for students and institutions and damaging the reputation of their profession.
The London Statement sets out seven principles that agents will be urged to adhere to, in an effort to ensure they practise responsible business ethics, providing current, accurate and honest information to prospective students so they can make informed choices.
It says that agents’ business dealings should be made transparent through written agreements, and they should work with destination countries and higher education providers to help raise ethical standards and best practice.
Underpinning these principles is an ethical framework that also lays great stress on professionalism, integrity, objectivity, transparency and confidentiality.
The countries that are participating will each work towards implementing the principles with the agents that they use and share information about their efforts at another international forum in 2013. In terms of how the countries will implement the principles, this will be decided by each country but is likely to be incorporated into training and communications with agents.
The aim is to restore confidence in agents, who can be individuals, companies or other organisations, known by various titles such as student advisor, education consultant or representative.
Pat Killingley, the British Council’s Director of Higher Education said the issuing of the statement of principles was not about getting tough with bad agents but about promoting and encouraging the very good practices that many already follow.
She said: “Our schools, colleges and universities have got some very good agents out there. This is about supporting the vast majority of responsible agents and setting out clearly what our expectations are, to help ensure that international students receive a good service and sound advice when they consult an agent.”
The British Council and Australia Education International first initiated discussions two years ago, bringing together representatives from UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland. One of the outputs of the roundtable is the statement of principles between UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. The roundtable has also helped the six countries to share advice and best-practice on student welfare and recruitment.
Colin Walters, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Education International, said “it is important that the reputation and integrity of international education continues to be held in high regard. We must ensure that international students receive advice which will enable them to have high quality educational experiences”.
Ms Killingley said: “This is a good example of international collaboration in action. The British Council is well placed to help broker agreements of this kind due to our global scale, contacts and experience – and this has been a truly collaborative process between the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This work has brought about a landmark joint statement between four countries which should help international students get sound advice and information as they decide where to study.”
The next step will be to talk to the agents’ representative bodies in countries that send many students to study overseas such as India and China, to get them to sign up to the statement, she added.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development there are more than three million students being educated at university level outside of their home country. Some commentators expect this to reach eight million by 2025. There are many millions more who study English language courses in the five countries involved in the London Statement.
The London Statement’s seven principles are:
Agents and consultants practice responsible business ethics.
Agents and consultants provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner
Agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements
Agents and consultants protect the interests of minors.
Agents and consultants provide current and up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ.
Agents and consultants act professionally.
Agents and consultants work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice.
(Source: This piece of information is based on the Press release of British Council UK)