New Zealand has a “legislative approach dictating what providers can do,” he said, adding that the country’s code of practice “is very student centered”. Australia also takes a legislative approach and providers require agents to complete national agent training.
Ireland has a “light legislative approach” according to Fortescue, including a code of practice provision. He said practice is audited every one to five years. However, he noted that there is very little agent training happening in the country according to the data reviewed.
Fortescue proffered that much of the work being done in the UK agent regulation space has been “based on significant pressure”.
“It’s basically been the sector saying, let’s do something before it gets done to us,” he said, referencing the National Code of Ethical Practice, a guide for agents on expected behaviours and a resource for students.
The US has voluntary accreditation through AIRC. “It’s a what I’d call a ‘Rolls Royce’ agent accreditation system,” said Fortescue. “They do heaps of background checks,” much of which is “well beyond what institutions generally do”.
However, Fortescue argued it is out of the reach of many, with a “hefty price tag” of around $10,000.
“Canada has a real mix across provinces and territories because of the nature of where education sits in the legislature with its public colleges and universities,” he continued. He noted the national agent training offered by ICEF and mentioned Manitoba’s International Education Act,, which has specific agent management clauses and a code of practice that mirrors Australia and New Zealand.
President and CEO of EduNova Shawna Garrett referenced a recent analysis of study permits comparing Nova Scotia’s conversion rate to the rest of the country in which Nova Scotia scored 58%. “[It] was the third worst in the entire region,” she said.
EduNova has developed a number of programs to address the issue, including an agent training program. Garrett said they have also received funding to run a French speaking agent training program for francophone markets.
In addition, she emphasised the importance of bringing the agencies to a region. “We want to make sure they have a good understanding of what the universities have to offer [via] an in-person, real world experience [here].”
Joe Stokes, registrar and AVP of international at Ontario Technical University, believes what is currently happening in the agent regulation space in Ontario is reactive. Stokes said due to that “media heat,” he believes there’s been a reactionary approach on behalf of the public sector.
He spoke of the “us and them” factor between colleges and universities and agents, saying, “We haven’t always been able to play together” and praised “sector-driven” organisations such as EduNova.
Stokes was part of an initiative in Ontario to develop an agent framework with recommendations for institutions as well. He spoke of the necessity of shared accountability between agents and institutions. He also expressed concern that regulations for aggregators can be “near impossible to implement and bring consistency over large groups of some agents.”
“I think Australia and New Zealand are doing it the best”
Luna Das, director of client partnerships, Canada at IDP Connect, stated, “Even though every country has put the onus on institutions to work their agents, I think Australia and New Zealand are doing it the best. Especially New Zealand, which focuses a lot on the welfare of the students and what we call after sales service,” such as ensuring students are receiving the appropriate services.
However, Fortescue told the PIE, “While earlier research showed that agents generally prefer the more heavily regulated approaches found in Australia and New Zealand, these countries still face the same challenges that other destinations do with a small number of agents and students behaving unethically. As such, the best a sector or government can do is drive good practice in institutional management.”
Where it can “get hairy,” according Fortescue, is in the various models of agents. “There’s a lot of grappling with moving beyond the traditional agent models to aggregators, brokers, and even knowing what an agent is.”
Das argued that regulations and accountability is multifaceted, as not only do providers need accountability, but also institutions. “In the past couple of years, we’ve seen students getting deported. We’ve seen institutions going bankrupt. We’ve seen student applications getting revoked.” She said there can be “bad blood and legal trouble” on both institutional and agency sides.
Das offered the example of “student jumpers,” or students who leave one institution for another. She highlighted that this is a nuanced conversation, as many factors play into a student transfer that agents have no control over.
As such, for Das, “knowing your customer is very important.” She recommended having different touchpoints with students along their journey to ensure best fit and best outcome. “It leads to a better result for the institution and for us and leads to a better customer.” She also advocated for commission blindness to promote an unbiased student-first approach.
Fortescue pondered whether Canada’s individualisation by province could be sending mixed messages to source markets, but Stokes said this was unlikely to change.
“In Canada, we have 13 different education jurisdictions,” he said. “Provincial authorities are going to confuse things to a point because we have different approaches. But I think there’s opportunities for regional cooperation.”
He added that many provinces lack collaborative efforts, “Ontario perhaps being the worst”. Stokes offered Alberta and Saskatchewan as an example of mobilisation to establish councils of international education.
Garrett discussed the possibility of added creating a national framework via a body like Global Affairs Canada, which “have funding set aside that could be then funnelled out to provinces, jurisdictions and regions, and who could set ethical standards and recommended practices for agents”.
Speaking with The PIE, Fortescue shared that while nearly half of the CBIE audience supported regulation of institutional practice through legislation and quality auditing, “this involves proper training and clearly outlining expected practices for agents as well as being transparent with students about these partnerships and what they should expect of contracted agents”.
To accomplish this, Fortescue suggested, “ethical agents, institutions and governments must partner to ensure the integrity of the system and mimimise the risks to international students”.
He concluded that, in this respect, the UK approach, “with its greater auditing of institutional practice, seems likely to have the best outcomes”.