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Aus: students lose up to A$1m to fraudulent agency

Australia’s Overseas Student Ombudsman has issued an advisory to prospective international students to use the services of only education agencies which are endorsed by education providers, after it emerged that a Brisbane-based agency may have scammed students out of up to A$1m.

Tu Futuro en Australia Pty YouTubeA notice on Tu Futuro's YouTube channel says it will resume its activities on January 16 - but students haven't been able to reach the company.

“The new standards place a much greater emphasis on the duties that providers have to ensure correct representation to students"

Tu Futuro en Australia Pty, which provided agency services to students mostly in South America, is thought to have disappeared with the money it was paid by prospective international students for tuition and accommodation at the end of last year.

A notice on the company’s YouTube channel uploaded on December 25 2016 says Tu Futuro will resume activities and respond to applications after January 16. All other videos have been removed from the channel.

However, students reported not being able to reach the agency by phone or email since that date, and the company’s website has been removed.

Tu Futuro en Australia Pty's website

Tu Futuro’s website has been removed

One student from Brazil, Savita Azebedo, said she had arrived in Australia to find the $8,000 she had paid Tu Futuro for an English course, homestay and health assistance had not been paid to providers.

She was shortly asked to leave her accommodation as the landlord told her they had not been paid, and could not get in touch with Tu Futuro.

“I sent [an] email but I don’t have answers, I called the phones, but no answers,” she told ABC.

“We try to come here and study to get a better life… but we are disappointed.”

Around 100 students in South America are reported to have lost between $500,000 and $1m all told.

The Consulate of Spain in Australia has also received complaints about the agency, from “numerous people who claim to have been victims of fraud” and have lost money to the company, it said in a statement.

The OSO said it has received more than 40 complaints about Tu Futuro and is working with government agencies to help students.

“We try to come here and study to get a better life… but we are disappointed”

In a statement, the ombudsman advised students to use only approved education agents listed on institutions’ websites and to make a complaint to their education provider in the event of a problem.

Providers are required by the ESOS National Code, which they must adhere to in order to teach international students, to “take all reasonable measures to use education agents that have an appropriate knowledge and understanding of the Australian international education industry and [not] use education agents who are dishonest or lack integrity”.

However, the Tertiary Education Standards and Quality Agency, in its statement on the fraud allegations, pointed to a new section in the Higher Education Standards Framework, which came into effect on January 1, that it says will help to protect students from fraudulent agents.

“Agents and other parties involved in representing the higher education provider are bound by formal contracts with the provider, their performance is monitored and prompt corrective action is taken in the event or likelihood of misrepresentation or unethical conduct,” the new standards state.

Anthony McClaran, TESQA’s chief executive said the new standards “place a much greater emphasis on the duties that providers have to ensure correct representation to students and agents are specifically mentioned.

“They have only just come into force, but their existence means that TEQSA will be taking these standards into account in its assessment of providers.”

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