Speaking at a rally organised by the Migrant Worker Association, Unite Union and Auckland Unitarian Church, Radhakrishnan said the Labour-led coalition government wanted to prevent fraudulent behaviour of agents.
“We have concerns about offshore education agents who are acting illegally and unethically in many cases, and potentially doing all sorts of things without the students’ knowledge as well,” she said.
“We will review this, and we may consider regulation as well. The Labour Party is absolutely clear that these offshore education agents [must] act legally, ethically and appropriately.”
The announcement appears to be in response to an incident last year in which around 150 Indian students were found to have fraudulent visa documentation and subsequently deported, a circumstance the students claimed was due to actions undertaken by their education agent.
If implemented, the regulations would be a New Zealand first, which Radhakrishnan acknowledged.
“We have concerns about offshore education agents who are acting illegally and unethically”
“Previous governments, and this is both National and Labour governments, haven’t regulated offshore education agents,” she said.
Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said his organisation welcomed any move that would ensure prospective international students receive clear and accurate information from offshore agents.
“Universities have long been concerned by the actions of some less than genuine private tertiary providers, and some less than scrupulous agents, whose focus has been finding a fast track to New Zealand residency rather than tertiary education,” he told The PIE News.
While overall positive, Whelan added that “the devil will be in the detail of any changes” and ENZ would keep an eye on any government proposals to identify any unintended consequences to the sector.
“We will want to see a process that ensures we are attracting genuine students looking for a high-quality education. Conversely, we don’t want the process to become artificially onerous,” he said.
“We recognise that offshore agents not only promote New Zealand, but also our main competitor markets: Australia, Canada, USA and the UK. If regulations are too onerous then agents will simply stop recommending New Zealand.”
Radhakrishnan’s comments further solidify the newly-elected government’s intent to scrutinise New Zealand’s international education industry, following its election policy in August to reduce net migration primarily through international student numbers.
“Universities have long been concerned by the actions of some less than genuine private tertiary providers”
While there was a level of uncertainty from industry stakeholders at the time of their taking office due to the complicated nature of a coalition – New Zealand First has formed government with both major political parties – the government appears to be sticking by the policy, a decision new education minister Chris Hipkins said would cost around $130m.
Stakeholders have now pledged to work closely with the government to ensure the ongoing success of the industry, with ENZ chief executive Grant McPherson issuing an open letter.
“Our immediate priority at Education New Zealand is to ensure we are well positioned to advise our new Minister, and to ensure a smooth transition of administration,” he said.
“We are keen to engage with incoming Ministers on the long-term picture for international education and the broader benefits it delivers to New Zealand, in particular on delivering an education to be proud of and driving sustainable growth especially in the regions.”
Earlier this year, INZ data revealed offshore visa application to New Zealand had declined by 20% in 2016, primarily driven by declines from Indian students.