High Time to Regulate International Student Agents

COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees and Australia is coming to terms with some harsh reality. The car manufacturing industry sailed off in front of our eyes, now we are witnessing the most lucrative Education industry drifting away fast. The Australian education industry is our 3rd largest third largest export, contributing billions to our economy, if we don’t act now, we will end up with world-class universities with low student numbers.

Last year, I attended a “Victoria India Roundtable” discussion organized by Australia India Institute on the topic of Strengthening the Indian community and Indian international student networks. In that session, I recommended to the panel to pressurize universities towards more scrutiny and audits of Education Consultants and Agents. This is primarily because we regularly come across many cases of how students are led to believe many untrue aspects, such as sustenance costs, work availability, permanent residency and so forth.

The work that my team and I have done to support international students over the past few weeks has brought something similar to the forefront. The common theme emerging from students is they have been ill-advised by migration consultants or agents about the financial requirements to sustain in Australia, and they have been given a rosy picture of how they can earn & live comfortably here. Students risk their parents’ savings and overstate their financial positions to come to Australia based on the advice given by agents. Their lack of awareness about Australian laws and working conditions make them solely to take decisions based on the often incomplete or inappropriate information given to them by the agents.

Yes, we can’t blame just one segment alone! Universities have an equal responsibility in qualifying the agents they use. Putting the blame squarely on the students is unfair too, as up to 20% of their tuition fees go to the agent and universities or the education providers don’t appear to care as long as they get new students year after year. Unfortunately, international students are seen as only cash cows.

In February 2019, a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Migration in their “Report of the inquiry into efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration and education agents” clearly mentions that:
“During the course of this 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”. “Submitters generally held the view that international students were vulnerable, open to exploitation by unscrupulous education agents, and a lack of regulation enabled them to operate without any consequences for their actions”.

Words on paper read well! While the report is appreciated, it is not enough. The Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations doesn’t go long enough, it’s just a band-aid for a problem requiring surgery. Also, it is worth pondering whether the recommendations made any impact or not. It’s high time the government takes a lead role in regulating the Education Agent market, so agents provide more accurate information and engage in ethical practices. As a result, international students will be better prepared for their life in Australia. It shouldn’t take a crisis to regulate an important and profitable industry!

By Karthik Arasu (President of Australia India Sports Council)