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Australia moves on quality framework for agents

The Australian government is funding a major research and scoping project into a quality framework for education agencies, marking a substantive push forward towards a possible national accreditation or ratings system.

Honeywood (centre) from IEAA talks to colleagues from the UK's International Unit at the Universities Australia conferenceHoneywood (centre) from IEAA talks to colleagues from the UK's International Unit at the Universities Australia conference

"We are quietly hopeful that this will lead to some major reform"

This is a significant national project with a multi-stakeholder steering committee, led by IEAA and its executive director, Phil Honeywood.

He told The PIE News this is the first significant attempt to make progress on education agent behaviour and regulation since the publication of The London Statement in 2012, agreed by five countries.

He is travelling to hold focus groups with agents in China and India, speaking at the ICEF ANZA Workshop at the end of April and sending surveys to many more agencies, as well as inviting survey submissions from all stakeholders.

The project, which reports back at the end of June, could lead to a rating or accreditation framework being developed.

Honeywood – who ventured that “good agents are as worried as anyone else about ethical concerns” towards agent behaviour – nodded to the problem of course-hopping in Australia as one reason for the government investment into better understanding education agent practice.

“There has been some bad behaviour in recent times with students being persuaded to course hop from public unis into private colleges,” he explained.

This issue has been exacerbated by streamlined visa processing (SVP) which offers swifter and less cumbersome admissions processing into public unis but has led to allegations that some onshore agents are persuading students to switch education provider after they have started their course.

60% of international higher education commencements have been supported by education agents over the past five years

IEAA’s president, Brett Blacker, underlined the critical role that education agents play in Australia, citing data from AUIDF which indicates 60% of international higher education commencements have been supported by education agents over the past five years.

“There is ‘no one size fits all’ approach when it comes to regulation and quality assurance of education agents,” said Blacker. “Any potential framework needs to be fit-for-purpose and based on the unique attributes of Australia’s system.”

Honeywood has already interviewed 48 agents in India, working closely with association, AAERI, and various members of the steering committee.

“Uniquely, there is cross-departmental membership on the steering committee,” he told The PIE News, “including the head of student visa policy at the immigration department and the federal education department, international directors at [various universities] and a range of other stakeholders such as Sue Blundell at English Australia.”

He added, “We are quietly hopeful that this will lead to some major reform.”

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