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NZ: axed agent program “wasn’t fit for purpose”

Stakeholders in New Zealand have called the country's recognised agencies program “unfit for purpose”, after it was shut down after an expansive review.
August 15 2023
4 Min Read

Stakeholders in New Zealand’s international education sector have called an axed recognised agencies program “unfit for purpose”.

The Education New Zealand Recognised Agencies program, or ENZRA, was first launched in 2014 with an aim to support education agencies promoting New Zealand as an international education destination.

It has been ceased after “extensive engagement” with agents and stakeholders deeming it no longer useful to the sector at large.

“We want to continue working with, and listening to, agencies who will be the trusted voice representing high-quality education agencies from around the world,” Sahinde Pala, general manager of sector services at ENZ, told The PIE.

“Education providers have the primary responsibility for agents working with them in New Zealand, and we’re focusing our efforts to ensure we’re supporting that relationship,” she added.

Stakeholders speaking to The PIE News have said that the program was not “adding value” to the industry’s efforts to recruit overseas students. 

It comes as multiple countries are looking into the use of agents on a federal level. Australia has seen a plethora of issues surrounding how agents are regulated, with a review in May saying tighter scrutiny was needed amid reports of “dodgy” agents facilitating the trafficking of “non-genuine” students and student poaching

Elsewhere, multiple questions have been asked in Canada about the need for heightened education agency scrutiny after multiple reports of agents faking acceptance certificates and promising permanent residency to students.  

ENZRA has had a bumpy history as a program. A year after its initial launch, it was put on pause due to “negative feedback” from stakeholders. 

A management consultancy brought in for a subsequent review said it had the “unintended perception that it was a quality assurance program, which took ENZ beyond its organisational remit”. 

The program was officially relaunched in 2018 – with agencies having to achieve a certain standard through a points system, meet “minimum conduct standards” and fulfil ENZ stipulated training requirements. 

Despite it lasting four years, agencies were rolled over in 2021 and it was again put under review in September 2022 off the back of the amended international education strategy release. 

Geneviève Rousseau Cung, education agents manager at ENZ, said at the time it was necessary to make sure the program “does the best possible job of supporting our international education sector as it rebuilds”. 

Andrew McSweeney, Pourangi Ākonga me te Ahumahi, or deputy chief executive learner and employer experience and attraction at Te Pūkenga, told The PIE it was consulted as part of the review.

“From our perspective, the program was not adding value to our international marketing efforts. It did not provide agent performance measures and membership was not a consideration when we were appointing education agents,” McSweeney surmised. 

“The program was not adding value to our international marketing efforts”

Kim Renner said agencies play a “vital role” in supporting students and, of course, promoting New Zealand as a study destination – and was assured the ENZ has “confirmed their commitment to enhancing the support they provide to agencies”. 

“This can be done without ENZRA which wasn’t fit for purpose,” Renner, executive director at English New Zealand, told The PIE.

“Many very experienced agencies did not see the benefit in joining and others were ineligible,” she added.

ENZ’s commitment to support agencies going forward echoes the final outcome of recent decisions in the US, where for some time it seemed as if third-party guidance would effectively ban education agents and recruitment consultants – before clarifying the guidance to say they had been excluded from additional oversight, allowing them to continue their work. 

Following the clarification in April, a report in May cited a “dramatic growth” in the number of partnerships between agents and institutions, showing agency collaboration in the US is alive and well. 

“ENZ’s renewed agent engagement program aims to better its offering for all education agents globally, so they are best placed to support the recovery of the international education sector. 

“Education providers have the primary responsibility for agents working with them in New Zealand, and we’re focusing our efforts to ensure we’re supporting that relationship,” Pala explained.

“Prospective students find agencies via a range of methods”

McSweeney assured that the discontinuation of ENZRA would have “no impact” on Te Pūkenga’s conduct, and it would continue to use their “existing quality assurance processes”. 

“Prospective students find agencies via a range of methods and that will continue without ENZRA… [students] can ask the school they’re interested in for a list of agencies in their location,” Renner added.

The PIE reached out to various education agencies who were part of the recognised agency program, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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