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Landmark G4 statement on education agents

A landmark statement on a best practice approach to ethical recruitment by education agencies has been issued by four countries: the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. While the Statement of Principles will largely be used for informing best practice and has no actual policy ramifications, the fact that four countries have agreed on quality principles for education agencies is in itself quite a milestone.

Pat Killingley (left) of the British Council and Colin Walters of AEI in Australia spearheaded the London Statement initiativePat Killingley (left) of the British Council and Colin Walters of AEI in Australia spearheaded the London Statement initiative

"This is about supporting the vast majority of responsible agents"

With the USA still embroiled in a domestic debate about whether using agencies to recruit is permissible, a unified statement by other countries encouraging ethical recruiting by agencies is a significant endorsement of their importance in the international education landscape.

Tarnished by frequent stories about dodgy agents ripping off students, professional student recruitment companies will see the London Statement, as it will be known, as a supportive gesture.

Indeed, Ravi Lochan Singh, President of Indian agency association, AAERI, commented, “AAERI welcomes this development and the collaborative spirit that went into the statement. AAERI also believes that the statement is in a way acknowledgement of the critical functions that education agents perform in the industry.”

“The statement is acknowledgement of the critical functions that education agents perform in the industry”

The London Statement is the outcome of  a series of meetings between six main destinations in the international education market as part of a Roundtable on the Integrity of International Education (the four signatories and also the USA and Canada, notably absent from the final declaration). At the initial meeting of the Roundtable in 2010, Australia proposed developing a joint international code of ethics for education agents.

Pat Killingley, the British Council’s Director of Higher Education, used language carefully crafted to indicate that most education agencies are considered to be reputable when announcing the news.

“Our schools, colleges and universities have got some very good agents out there,” she said. “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 seven Principles will now be communicated to agency associations, notably in India and China, announced Killingley, and each country will work towards ensuring that these principles are taken into consideration, with training for agencies likely. “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,” announced the British Council.

“If agents don’t treat the students well it gets the whole study abroad experience off to a really bad start”

Speaking exclusively to The PIE News, Colin Walters, Chief Executive Officer of Australian Education International, said, “ I think the key thing is that the agents are sending students to all of our countries and therefore it’s in all of our interests to try and send out the same messages about the high standards we expect them to observe.”

He continued, “If agents don’t treat the students well it gets the whole study abroad experience off to a really bad start. So I think we’re all at one in trying to find ways of promoting the highest ethical standards.”

At Indian agency association, AAAOE, member Dr.C.B.Paul Chellakumar also welcomed the statement, but said it did not go far enough. “Why is the BC’s Director, Pat Killingley, trying to give a sugar coating by saying ‘the statement of principles was not about getting tough with bad agents’. One ought to be tough with bad agents in order to eradicate the bad practices if and when found in the industry,” he said.

He also questioned what impact this would have on advisors already accredited by organisations such as the British Council, and how each country would manage the London Statement given various different immigration policies in place.

At the Department for Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in Canada, a spokesperson commented, “No decisions have been made about signing the Statement of Principles. At all times, we act in the best interests of Canadians.”

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