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Agent role to be reviewed in Canada’s new international education strategy

Education agents are a “key vulnerability” to Canada, Global Affairs Canada has said, as talks begin on the next version of the country’s international education strategy.

Global Affairs Canada has released discussion papers to inform the country's next international education strategy. Photo: Unsplash.

Diversification is set to be an important theme in Canada’s next international education strategy

New discussion papers suggest that agent regulation could be a priority for the refreshed strategy, which is set to launch in April 2024. 

“The unethical practices of some education agents used by certain Canadian education institutions pose a direct risk to Canada’s reputation as a provider of high-quality education services,” the papers read. 

“The issue has risen to prominence recently and is regarded as a key vulnerability to Canada’s international education sector,” they continue. 

A TV documentary that aired in Canada in October 2022 showed education agents in India promising students they could easily obtain permanent residency after graduation. 

In its discussions with institutions and education organisations, GAC will ask whether agents can be self-regulated by the sector or whether a body such as the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants of Canada should be given responsibility for doing so. 

It will also look into the role of aggregators, considering whether they should be held accountable for the actions of the sub-agents they work with.

“The issue has risen to prominence recently”

Graham Barber, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, said agents are an “important” part of the international education landscape, providing “valuable services” but that “there are bad actors and disreputable agencies that can threaten the integrity of Canada’s system”.

“We welcome closer consultation with Global Affairs Canada to help protect international students from fraudulent agents, while still allowing licensed, professional agencies to provide valuable overseas representation,” Barber said. 

Alain Roy, vice president of international partnerships at Colleges and Institutes Canada, said the organisation would work with GAC to “champion solutions that increase equity and quality of educational experiences for international students and create well-defined and transparent pathways to employment and permanent residence to support Canada’s immigration objectives”.

“We are exploring how colleges can strengthen recruitment practices while also enhancing the integrity of Canada’s immigration processes through better sharing of information and more targeted promotional efforts in new markets,” Roy added. 

Diversification is also set to be an important theme in Canada’s next international education strategy, including diversification of programs, destinations within Canada, study levels and regional diversification within source countries.

GAC said that increasing the range of study locations within Canada will “spread the burden on services… while spreading the economic benefits of international students more equitably”. 

Over half (411,985) of all international students in Canada held permits linked to Ontario institutions in 2022. 

The strategy will also focus on widening source countries as students from India and China continue to make up the bulk of Canada’s international student population. 

“The high reliance on international student enrolments from India, particularly in the Ontario college sector, poses the risks of significant revenue fluctuations if external or geopolitical factors cause a decline from this source country,” GAC wrote, adding that cohorts have become less diverse since 2015. 

However, it said there were “enormous” opportunities to diversify within India, as most students currently come from the northern region. 

“The unethical practices of some education agents used by certain institutions pose a direct risk to Canada’s reputation”

Diversification was a priority in Canada’s previous international education strategy but the department said it had “limited success”, in part due to the pandemic which prevented institutions from attempting to reach new markets. 

Universities Canada’s current focus countries include Vietnam, the Philippines, Colombia, Senegal, Morocco, Ghana and Kenya. 

Over the next year, the government will consult with stakeholder organisations and provincial governments. These discussions will also cover topics including digital marketing, scholarships, alumni relations, sustainability and indigenous partnerships. 

Barber said, “We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the new IES and hope that together our institutions and Global Affairs Canada can build a Team Canada approach to international education.”

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7 Responses to Agent role to be reviewed in Canada’s new international education strategy

  1. The fact that one of the “Questions for Consultation” listed “Should education agent aggregators also be held accountable for the conduct of their sub contracted agents?” is even a question at this point is DEEPLY concerning, however not surprising.

    TCS has been working hand in hand with aggregator entities, inviting them to embassy Edu-Canada events (despite clear policy guidelines that would prevent this). While other entities of the federal government have been dumping millions in grant money in aggregator bank accounts, not to mention sharing government data with these entities on an exclusive basis. Noteworthy also is the flow of former Federal government (and high level management employees of DLI’s) to said entities over time.

    I was also surprised to see the province of Manitoba held out as an example of progress, as that province has refused to investigate complaints that the aggregator model operates in direct conflict with the essence of the Manitoba International Education Act and its regulations (which REQUIRE Designated Education Providers (DEPs) to supervise agents and ensure consumer standards NOT aggregators to do so. Although I concur (generally, in a highly technical sense) that the Act does not explicitly forbid any of the above, allowing blanket exemptions for sub agents (to the point of immunity) from the legislative compliance aimed at protecting international students during recruitment phase, has a catastrophic impact – to the point of rendering large parts of the Act and its regulations moot. So while Manitoba remains the only province to have legislation on record to protect students during the international recruitment phase, in reality, it has no impact on the majority of students being recruited.

    In terms of CBIE’s code condition that members pledge to be committed to “transparency and due diligence”, would love to see any kind of audit ever done, to ensure even remote compliance, with the same.

    ICEF’s role in training agents through a course funded by Canadian taxpayers, is noted. Previously I had conducted an audit and noted significant non-compliance with the Federal law requirement to abide by S 91 of IRPA (fees for immigration services) by the agents featured on the company’s. Upon receiving the complaint ICEF simply removed these agents from their website, with no record of punitive action. The concern with ICEF registration remains that it is soften used as a badge of credibility to illicit agent contracts with DLIs, and in no way guarantees a representation of ethical behavior. To be effective, ICEF should be auditing its agents for compliance, does it?

    In my five + years trying to illicit the ICCRC (now the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants) involvement in this issue, I am unable to report much success. The College (formerly ICCRC) did hold the initial position was that this was not a matter related to consumer protection. No kidding.

    The other (most) concerning “Consultation Question” is “Should the issue be self-regulated by the sector?”. We are talking about the same sector that has been bending over backwards to ignore these issues for the last five years, correct?

    While self- regulation DOES occur in various sectors… doctors, lawyers, immigration consultants, all of those entities are also subject to Federal law and enforcement when things go wrong. The same would not be true for overseas education agents, so unless the Canadian bound entities – DLI’s themselves and/or in Canada aggregator platforms are willing to produce an open set of books (ie full transparency) and be subject penalty for gross misdoings (of the types that are happening now, on the regular) this would be much like allowing a skulk of foxes to guard the hen house.

  2. Well said Earl Blaney. While Global Affairs Canada ‘ponders’ whether known unscrupulous actors posing as education recruitment agents can self-regulate, Canada’s inaction on this front is an embarrassment both internationally and domestically in the post-secondary education sector.

    I am ashamed of the fallout in academia from the relentless pursuit many Canadian post-secondary institutions – both private and public – have put on international student recruitment at the sacrifice of both ethics and civility. For many institutions, this focus is the key to their continued viability.

    Give credit where credit is due. CBC’s The Fifth Estate’s episode “Sold a lie” shone a bright light on the dark underbelly of our post-secondary private college industry and the “cutthroat industry in India.”

    But it is not just private colleges. Only last month, CTV’s W5 exposé on Cape Breton University’s greed in bringing in more international students than the region could possibly house left President David Dingwall trying to justify an indefendable position.

    And the list goes on.

    My message to the GAC: There is only one thing to ponder, are you going to create a separate body or give responsibility to the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants of Canada or to Colleges and Institutes Canada or any other vetted and worthy organization capable of truly managing oversight of education agents?
    Self-regulation and the status quo are not options if we want Canada to be and to be seen as a country that upholds ethical practices, cares about providing quality education experiences and pathways to employment and permanent residence for international students. We need to regulate this ‘runaway train’ of a sector to regain credibility on the international stage.

  3. I have been very vocal about the urgent need to regulate international student recruitment. Unfortunately, Pseudo-Tech aggregators and their 20,000+ multilevel subagent network changed international student recruitment to “Student Trafficking”. Punjab state in India is the best example. Every international Education professional knows that Pseudo-Tech aggregator’s claim of using AI is a black lie and that the majority of international students are recruited through unregulated subagents in India.

    Sad to see the industry, top consulting companies, and news media applauding these Pseudo-Tech aggregators applauding. Why? Big sponsorship budgets.

    Unless the government, Universities, and colleges do not stop Pseudo-Tech aggregators and subagent international student recruitment, there will be no change in the industry.

  4. The thought behind the thought is really strong to keep the industry contamination free. The industry stockholders should meet certain criteria to make the industry different. If institution work with vision on different market quality students will not be problem but need to set the perspective and avoid sort time gain strategy.

  5. ApplyBoard (Super agent) their sub-agent business model is really messing up the Canadian international education industry.

    Many colleges located in the remote areas or public private partnership(PPP) colleges are desperately looking for students, thus they have no choose to work with super agents like Apply Board.

    One feasible solution for this is to penalize DLIs if their agents found wrong-doings, ultimately be accountable for their agents actions and regulatory will suspend DLI so schools will take this seriously.

  6. Canadian educational institutions AND immigration policy makers + the ministry is responsible for this and they need to be held accountable first. They are the ones benefiting the most. I am not saying that the agents are not profiting in a major way with sketchy tactics and opportunistic rule-pushing practices, but to portray these institutions as naive by-standards is to me very much shortsighted. The money comes from non-canadian families, many times from the global south and goes partially to the agent but mostly to Canada: in infinite ways. They might or might not end up migrating here, and that might give them access to certain job security (because they won’t yet be able to obtain the same job position as their canadian counter parts with the same degree), but they are definitely getting the short straw. They are the victims, not Canada. Let’s be less narcissistic please.

  7. Your concerns about the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) are definitely valid, and I believe it’s essential to address and discuss these issues to maintain Canada’s reputation as a provider of high-quality education.

    The issue of rubber stamping or awarding high school certificates to unprepared students is a matter of grave concern. It undermines the value of education, worsens the status of our educational institutions, and, most importantly, fails to equip students with the skills and knowledge they need for their future careers or higher education.

    Risks and concerns regarding the quality of education awarded by schools in other countries, like China and Vietnam, doing little to no work, further highlight the need for scrutiny and control at the international level. It’s vital to ensure that education quality isn’t compromised for the sake of expanding the intake of international students.

    Your point about the online teaching mechanism and its genuineness is equally significant. The shift to online education has raised many issues, from academic honesty to the real value of web-based learning. If students use Google to answer test questions and assessments instead of building a genuine understanding of the material, it’s a formidable challenge educators need to address.

    Also, the policy of not allowing students to fail is misleading and harmful. It’s necessary to set standards and maintain them to ensure only deserving students could earn a degree.

    It’s disheartening to see a recent instance where Australia banned some schools applying to their universities because they did OSSD. Certainly, Canadian authorities need to pay serious attention to this and reassess the existing education policies, including OSSD.

    Maintaining high educational standards is essential and it’s time for authorities to take control of the situation and implement changes ensuring a bright and successful future for students.

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