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In the media: Agents ‘cut uni student quality’

The Australian, 1 May 2015

By Natasha Bita

Universities that pay agents to recruit “lower-quality” foreign students are undermining tuition standards for Australians, the Productivity Commission has warned.

Recruitment agents are on commissions of between 11 per cent and 17 per cent of tuition fees to sign up students offshore, the commission revealed in a new report released yesterday.

It concludes that university and private training colleges rely too heavily on external agents to recruit foreign students, who subsidise domestic research programs. “The present reliance on agents is sub-optimal and is a long-term threat to Australia’s international education exports,” the commission says in its research report on international education services.

“The heavy reliance on agents in Australia results in a lower quality of student . there may be implications for the quality of education provided to domestic students. Australian institutions should reduce their reliance on agents for student recruitment.”

The peak body for teaching English to foreign students, English Australia, told the commission the government’s education and training regulators were turning a blind eye to breaches.

“Low-quality providers fail to report any students for lack of attendance or progress and no one cares,” English Australia said in its submission to the study. “High-quality providers meet their obligations to report students for breaching the attendance and progress requirements and nothing happens in response. Colleges report persistent lack of enforcement, which discourages providers from reporting breaches.”

The report, released yesterday, says the federal government has halved funding to the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency over three years.

Funding to the Australian Skills Quality Authority which regulates training colleges – will rise by $68 million over four years.

The Immigration Department introduced a “streamlined visa processing” system in 2012, to fast-track visas for foreign students. All international students are now regarded as low-risk, so long as they apply to study certain courses.

The Productivity Commission warned yesterday that the SVP system had led to “some perverse incentives” for agents to channel international students into university courses “regardless of their aptitude or career aspiration”.

It found that some students and agents were targeting SVPregistered institutions to gain a student visa, and then “coursehopping” to cheaper or easier courses. “The (SVP system) . inherently provides an incentive to course-hop, particularly for international students whose primary motivation may not be an educational outcome and who may not be suited to higher education.”

The report criticises the role of recruitment agents, who sign up two-thirds of the foreign students studying in Australia.

“The industry currently operates under a shroud of mystery, with very little disclosure about commissions and recruitment methods,” it says. “An agent paid on a per-enrolled-student basis is more likely to target students that are less costly and timeconsuming to recruit.

The Group of Eight, representing Australia’s biggest universities, said problems with agents were not systemic.

Source: The Australian

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