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Agents raise concerns over IDP acquiring IELTS in India

Concerns have been raised by agents following the announcement that IDP with acquire IELTS in India. Photo: pexels

“It is worth noting that IELTS is solely distributed by either British Council or IDP in more than 70 of the 140 countries where it is offered"

British Council recently announced that it will sell its IELTS business in India to IDP for £130m on a debt free and cash free basis.

“The news of IDP taking over British Council IELTS operations has raised multiple questions”

British Council and IDP were both previously partners in the business: IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge Assessment English. Following the sale, all IELTS tests in India will be delivered by IDP.

However, education agents in India have raised concerns saying that the acquisition of IELTS in India by IDP is potentially anti-competitive. IDP in turn has said that they do not share candidate data between IELTS and IDP’s student placement teams.

“The news of IDP taking over British Council IELTS operations has raised multiple questions, which if not resolved would lead to confusion in the market and probably arbitration before the Competition Commission of India,” Govindachari Balaji, general secretary of AAERI, told The PIE News

“The common fear [among agents] is that students who register for the IELTS at IDP will be approached by the counsellors at IDP for admission,” said Sushil Sukhwani, founding director and owner of Edwise.

“This is OK if the student has permitted sharing of his/her personal information for services other than for the exam. However agents would be extremely uncomfortable with this as there is a possibility that they would lose the students to IDP.”

High Commission authorities in the country insist mainly on IELTS, he continued, meaning students from India have limited options other than IELTS.

Agencies need to share this business related information with our university partners and connections in the High Commissions. It is important that they understand the implications of the new acquisition,” he added.

Sonya Singh MD of SIEC Pty Ltd told The PIE that there is a “very clear conflict of interest” given that IELTS is the gateway to admissions and visas. 

“IDP Education being a private international student recruitment agency, publicly listed, working for shareholder profits could influence the international student market unfairly through this acquisition,” she said. 

Singh explained she also had concerns about how IDP will collect test takers’ data. 

“All IELTS tests are held at IDP controlled centres and every student that registers for the test will be on the IDP database,” she suggested. 

“Data being king in today’s business world, this will leave the other competing agencies out in the cold, insecure about their students and their future business. The question that the entire industry needs to ask is whether it is fair for a student recruitment agency to control the test that in turn controls the student outcomes.

“Tests need to have a clear and separate sanctity of their own and not be a part of a commercial enterprise that benefits directly from their outcomes,” she added. 

“We do not share candidate data between IELTS and IDP’s student placement teams”

On this point around data an IDP IELTS spokesperson said the organisation has “a proven track record of the highest data privacy standards”.

“As student placement agents in India who already send students to IDP IELTS centres are well aware, we do not share candidate data between IELTS and IDP’s student placement teams,” they told The PIE.

“We have strictly enforced firewalls in place between student placement and IELTS data.”

Ravi Lochan Singh, speaking in his capacity as MD of education agency Global Reach, told The PIE that it was not the first time that AAERI had considered filing a complaint against IDP with the CCI. 

In 2010, AAERI had filed a complaint with the CCI. The complaint was pertaining to a then decision of IDP’s to franchise out IELTS centres across India to third parties who would also have the franchise of their education business,” he explained.

The ruling was that the concern didn’t stand. “And IDP’s decision to franchise was not deemed “anti-competition” as it was a commercial enterprise and within its right to do so,” he said. 

“The ruling says, “The candidates can choose any one of the test centres from British Council and the IELTS: IDP. There seems no agreement between the agents controlling the services for any anti-competitive behaviour,” he continued.

“So now I wonder as to how CCI would rule, if approached, now that the candidates don’t have an option to choose between IDP and British Council and with the fact that all students have to walk into an IDP setup to take the test,” he said. 

“More clarity is required on the above as all other agents in India would be hesitant to promote IELTS”

Balaji said that AAERI is keen on resolving the issue through dialogue and a “clear stand from IDP” on a number of questions would bring more clarity to all the agents operating in India. 

These questions include whether IDP would continue to hold the current status in the market and promote IELTS under both British Council and IDP banners or only under the banner of IDP.

Another question relates to how IDP will ensure clear demarcation of their role as IELTS examiner and also an agent promoting international education.

More clarity is required as other agents in India “would be hesitant to promote IELTS”, Balaji continued.

“Unless a clear picture emerges in the immediate future, this could lead to education agents… pursuing legal remedy under MRTP Act 1969 and CCI. This they may do independently or through any of the many associations that exist. 

“If this happens, AAERI may have to collaborate too as the reference to the earlier 2008-2010 AAERI vs IDP case with CCI and also the undertakings given to agents by IDP will have to be referred to,” he added. 

Lochan Singh explained that at the time of the CCI action, IDP communicated to AAERI that an adequate firewall would be structured between recruitment and English testing activities and it would not pursue the franchise approach and AAERI did not challenge the CCI decision.

Responding to agents’ concerns around the sale, an IDP IELTS spokesperson said that IDP has worked successfully with competitor student placement agents in India for more than 20 years.

“It is worth noting that IELTS is solely distributed by either British Council or IDP in more than 70 of the 140 countries where it is offered, including in China, one of the world’s largest international education markets,” they said. 

“This is a model that works in many countries around the world, and there is no difference in India. India remains an extremely competitive market in English language testing and student placement.

“IDP has always been, and will continue to be, driven by a goal to deliver exceptional services for our customers,” the spokesperson added.

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20 Responses to Agents raise concerns over IDP acquiring IELTS in India

  1. It is a clear conflict of interests. IDP IELTS team in Bangladesh is reported to share information with their student placement team – they in fact take data and extra documents that are not required for IELTS registration and following IELTS result, the placement team contact students for admission.

    • IDP does the same in India too. Our students have been approached after the test is taken to sit with a counsellor for counselling. They have also been contacted after the test by the IDP counsellors.

  2. Universities should ask for any English test and not insist on a particular type of test like IELTS.
    IDP is likely to have an unfair competitive advantage by owning the test in India.

  3. British council not extending the validity of IELTS certificate. I attended the exam just before the pandemic start. Later two years there is no use of certificate where all border protected due to covid.

  4. Clearly, IDP is in a conflict of interest. Students are not able to clear IELTS academic exams in 1st and 2nd attempts. They get clearance only at 3rd attempt.

    • Sir, I have taken ielts for 2 times, even I didn’t get the score required, is there any particular reason that one can clear the ielts in the third time itself

  5. Idp and bc should provide test sheet to student after checking and issuing band score for more clarity of band score and quality of test checking by examiner will be more clear to student and institute as well

  6. I feel like writting part should be taken off from ielts exam, as not everyone is gonna be a writer in future.

  7. My question is why does IDP want to buy British council activities? If British council wants to close let them do it.once they close it naturally students will come to IDP.
    IDP will gain more.
    So let IDP forsake buying of British council education centes.

  8. Taking away students could be the Primary objective of this issue.I have already seen it happening while I was working for Global opportunities in Chennai .The motive is suspect. The MRTP act should be enforced here too .
    The writing corrections are much suspect..The frequent rate increases etc .are all to be looked into .They have just corrected their giving of material to the students after taking up the issue on Linkedin .Its high time the Government of India should step into this billion dollar business. Their arrangements with Canadian Airlines all points to nefarious ideas .Agents fears are well founded.

  9. Me and many of my friends have been contacted by ‘agents’ to take their service to apply student visa. We didn’t gave our contact numbers to them, we just gave IDP ielts exam. Our data is being shared and outcome of that is pure harrassment.

  10. Highly disappointed at the acquisition of IELTS by IDP. My institute, THE IMMACULATE is training around 70 students for IELTS every month and we too have contests with universities abroad. We already faced issues where IDP counselors send an email to the students regarding study abroad and the IDP counselors speak to our students reg study abroad.

  11. This is very troubling news. Even as a solely IELTS and PTE academy, it is worrisome for us because with score manipulation in the GT module already an issue with IELTS, we now have to deal with our immigration partners potentially going out of business.

    Rahul Singh
    Consilium Pathways

  12. Well according to me, I heard that if we choose to take exam in idp so they firstly not give proper band, we need to try second or third time. So government need to reduce our requirements in college or university like 5.5 or 6 is enough as idp don’t give you band for first attempt.

  13. Most universities around the world accept a number of tests to prove English fluency. If Counslates also do the same and do not insist on IELTS as the only test , like for SDS visa route to Canada, then the more ethical and unbiased providers will be an option for all

  14. This article is very good and true. Agents who invest all their money for advertisement is a utter waste. Finally after counselling and spend time in coaching IELTS, choosing right course and university, students are grabbed by IDP. DIP is killing our business. Something needs to be done to STOP IDP from grabbing our business and they should remember our families Depend on earnings from admissions business. If they take away our students how will our business and families survive. ??

  15. Yes , it is true that IDP is conducting IELTS exam ,then it should not be allowed to open their own study visa firm

  16. Hi, Great article!
    I’m really enjoying reading your posts. This is well worth a read. You presented great insight and information. We did same in India also

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