We went through the 138 pages of the newly released report of the inquiry into the efficacy of the current regulation of Australian migration and education agents and summarised the most important and relevant info to you.
"The majority of registered migration agents and education agents are diligent, knowledgeable, hardworking and competent and provide outstanding service. There are individuals in these industries, however, that take advantage of vulnerable consumers." This is what the Australian government think about education agents.
The international education industry is Australia’s third-largest export sector and the country’s leading service export sector. International students studying and living in Australia contributed $30.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2017, and the government is aware of that. It's in the interest of the Australian government to create the healthiest industry possible. Check our other article with more info about the role of education agencies in bringing students to Australia: Australian education agencies, your performance is going public soon, are you ready?
In Australia education agents are not directly regulated. Education providers however are responsible for the regulation of education agents under the ESOS Act and National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 (National Code). But an issues paper published by the Commonwealth Ombudsman on complaints about an education agent noted that the ‘governance of agents’ actions are monitored through their contractual relationship with education providers.
The status quo
The National Code sets out a number of requirements that education providers must comply with in order to ‘maintain their registration to provide education services to international students. These requirements include the regulation of education agents that formally represents their education services.
Currently, education providers "…must ensure that their education agents act ethically, honestly and in the best interest of overseas students and uphold the reputation of Australia’s international education sector", which also translates to:
- have a written agreement with each education agent they engage with;
- enter and maintain education agent details in Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS);
- ensure education agents have appropriate knowledge and understanding of the Australian International Education and Training Agent Code of Ethics;
- ensure education agents act honestly and in good faith;
- take immediate corrective action, or terminate a relationship if an agent (or an employee or subcontractor) is not complying with the National Code; and
- not accept overseas students from an education agent if it knows or suspects that the education agent is engaging in unethical recruitment processes.
Registered education providers must also not accept international students from an education agent if they are aware that the agent provides immigration advice; engages in dishonest recruitment practices; or facilitates non bona fide confirmation of enrolments or students.
The international education agent Code of Ethics
In 2010, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Ireland met for talks to discuss the development of an international code of ethics for education agents. On 16 March 2012, the countries agreed on seven principles for education agents:
- Education agents and consultants practice responsible business ethics.
- Education agents and consultants provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner.
- Education agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements.
- Education agents and consultants protect the interests of minors.
- Education agents and consultants provide current and up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ.
- Education agents and consultants act professionally.
- Education agents and consultants work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice.
To learn more about the Australian Code of Ethics for international education agents, click here.
The 4 new proposed changes
During the course of the inquiry the Committee received representations from a number of international students with evidence alleging that education agents were operating in an unlawful and unethical manner. Several submitters provided accounts of instances where education agents were going beyond their remit and providing unregistered immigration assistance.
"Rogue education agents operate in a segment of the market where the legislative interpretation of what constitutes the difference between immigration and clerical assistance is either largely misunderstood or blatantly ignored. MIA members report that education agents prepare and lodge student visa applications, and then later employment and permanent residence visas once these students have completed their studies. These education agencies appear to do this with impunity."
The International Student Education Agents Association (ISEAA) noted that it had a number of members who were both education and migration agents and held a contrary view to other submitters believing that education agents giving migration advice was not a significant issue. The ISEAA did however suggest that this issue should be monitored and be kept as part of the dialogue with government and industry.
Without further ado, here's the list of proposed changes:
Change 1: Education agent database of your performance
5.60 The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish an education agent register which contains information on the performance of education agents operating in Australia and overseas. The register should include information on whether the education agent has been sanctioned, suspended or had their written agreement with an education provider cancelled.
Note that a couple months ago I wrote exactly about this: Australian education agencies, your performance is going public soon, are you ready?
Change 2: You may need IELTS Academic 7, training course, Police Check and more
5.99 The Committee recommends amending the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 to require registered training organisations verify that education agents meet the following requirements prior to entering into a written agreement with each education agent that formally represents their education services:
§ completion of a Government authorised education agent training course;
§ obtain a IELTS 7 Academic or TOEFL result of 94;
§ undergo a National Police Check with the Australian Federal Police;
§ not have had their written agreement cancelled in the past 5 years.
Change 3: Ed. providers may have to review your agreement annually and you may be required to go through training
5.102 The Committee recommends amending the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018 to require registered training organisations to review written agreements with their education agents annually to ensure that education agents complete an appropriate number of professional development activities each year.
Change 4: A point-based system to downgrade education agencies that breach the ESOS act
5.113 The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce a sanction structure using a demerit point system for any education agent found to have breached the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000, National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018, or Migration Act 1958.
How is ISEAA handling it?
ISEAA stands for International Student Education Agents Association. We wrote extensively about them in our article Is ISEAA the solution for international education agencies in Australia?.
ISEAA participated in the discussions with the government, we don't have an official statement from ISEAA yet, neither we're aware (at least of the time this article), what is the ISEAA position on each of the changes above. We have to wait for them to issue an official statement.