UK Agent Quality Framework to add extra risk factor

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Almost 16,000 agents from 126 countries have signed up to the Agent Quality Framework – a joint partnership between the British Council, BUILA, UUKi and UKCISA. Some 5,200 of those are now certified – a number that is expected to grow as more universities sign the AQF.

Jacqui Jenkins, global programme lead, international student mobility, British Council, told The PIE there has been a surge of interest in the framework, since agent practice was called out by one mainstream media outlet.

It led to many conversations in the sector about improvements needed within the UK’s admission and recruitment processes.

Subsequently, an announcement from UUK stated that it will review the AQF, making recommendations to enhance the system, including wider UK data infrastructure to identify and address bad practice.

It will also review quality and comparability of international foundation programs and foundation programs for domestic students, including entry requirements, as well as updating the admissions code of practice to clearly state its applicability to international recruitment.

Jamie Arrowsmith, UUKi director, said that although aspects of the media reports were “somewhat misleading”, some of the agent behaviours portrayed were not of the expected standard.

“It’s important from our perspective that people have confidence in the system,” he said, adding that this is why UUKi has asked QAA to review the programs flagged in the report.

Meanwhile, in its continuous efforts to stay ahead of the curve, the British Council updates its learning module each quarter, The PIE learned. The next update will be around financial compliance and risk.

Speaking at the Scottish Universities International Group Conference, Ula Tang-Plowman, director of international recruitment at the University of Central Lancashire and BUILA executive, shared more information.

“The risk framework is really a mechanism to enable universities, British Council and other commercial sector bodies to share information on agents,” said Tang-Plowman.

“There will be a sector-wide set of measures that we’re monitoring agent performance on, including but not limited to visa refusal rates, retention rate, continuation rate, as well as the uptake of the British Council trainings for agents counsellors and their senior managers.”

The framework will give institutions the opportunity to anonymously share concerns with others, in a bid to help protect each other, and the sector, from misconduct.

It will provide universities with the information needed to make a decision on how to work with a particular agent, whether that’s intervening and improving practices or if they are seeing negative patterns of behaviour. If other institutions are reporting the same, they may wish to terminate the relationship.

“I am also aware that UKVI will soon include information about the agent on the CAS,” Jenkins told The PIE, adding that this will “massively help” the system.

London Higher is one body increasing its support for the AQF.

“We believe the commitment to the AQF is an important pledge that we would like to see universities taking seriously, and London Higher has been working with British Council and BUILA to see what more we can do to see the number of London universities signing the pledge increase,” said Diana Beech, chief executive officer, London Higher.

“It is in the interests of the whole sector to be promoting good agent practices”

“It is in the interests of the whole sector to be promoting good agent practices and empowering student choice and, with London being the UK’s most popular study destination for international students, it would be wonderful to see London lead the way in this area, as called for in our International Education Strategy for London.”

Beech added that London Higher is in the process of developing some soon-to-be-shared London-focused guidance of its own for universities and students on the use of reputable agents, which she said will complement the resources already published by British Council and BUILA. 

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Russell Group said that now, all Russell Group universities are pledged to the AQF – with many being signed up for some time.

“We will continue to work closely with both UUK and those within government to maintain and encourage good practice in recruitment processes,” the spokesperson said.

“International students and their families have the right to expect professionalism and honesty when working with agents, so they can take decisions about their education that are right for them, with information that is accurate and consistent with university admissions policies.”

“There is a lot of good agent practice out there among agents that haven’t done the training,” said Jenkins.

“But we believe undertaking the training will help all agents – event those who are more experienced – as they will be able to access the most up-to-date information.”



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