Held as part of the China Annual Conference for International Education (CACIE), the Forum played host to a number of representatives from the Education Ministry, who underlined the importance of continued reform while outlining what measures they had already taken to better regulate the industry.
“We are aware that there are still some problems – for example, the scale of the agencies is not very large and they have a high turnover”
However, some leaders expressed doubt about whether current regulation is sufficiently equipped to deal with a rapidly changing market.
“Everybody knows that the market is in great disorder,” Sang Peng, President of the Beijing Overseas Study Services Association (BOSSA) commented, voicing widespread concern about the threat of unscrupulous agents.
He commented that with over 1,000 non-accredited agencies operating in the capital, discerning which are trustworthy is a huge obstacle for both students and foreign institutions.
In a surprisingly candid address, Peng said given that consulting agencies are commercial ventures and not closely related to education within China, the Ministry of Education is the wrong government department to oversee their management and that its oversight has caused “disorder”.
“The government pays a high level of attention to a high threshold [for licensing], but once the agencies get a licence it cannot supervise their operations,” he said, adding that current rules are based on old practices and are not equipped to take into account developments such as online services.
Zheng Dengwen, Deputy Director-General of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, admitted that there are many “untrustworthy” agents that overcharge and provide false information.
“We are aware that there are still some problems – for example, the scale of the agencies is not very large and they have a high turnover,” he said adding that Beijing plans to introduce stricter measures to regulate agencies’ size and financial capacity.
He lauded BOSSA’s inspection scheme of member agencies launched last year and stressed the need for more collaboration with independent and international bodies.
Shanghai and Shandong have plans to follow suit with their own independent agency associations according to Xuewen E, COSA Vice Chairman and Executive Secretary-General.
Now that licensing powers have been decentralised to provincial authorities, ministry representatives highlighted work with the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE), of which COSA is a branch, as an example of how it is building links with industry to manage agencies.
“Everybody knows that the market is in great disorder”
Despite past efforts, Peng has called for regulatory reform that is “reasonably distributed” between government departments and suggested China’s government should learn from more mature markets.
“We shouldn’t inherit the ways and method used traditionally by government; we should strengthen our service for the consumers,” he said. “They want not only good service but for the market to be standardised.”
Jeffery Beard, Chairman of study abroad company Global Study Pass added that the rate of change among government and regulatory bodies is “lagging” behind changes in the market.
“The truth is that the government can’t keep up so the economy and the market forces are causing change to happen,” he said.