Exclusive: New ethical code of practice will save students from rogue agents

Foreigners to be protected from unscrupulous middle-men

Education Editor

Plans aimed at stopping “rogue” agents supplying overseas students to UK universities can be unveiled today by The Independent on Sunday.

The British Council will publish an online database listing all the agents around the world who have signed up to a new ethical code of practice in the wake of several cases involving conflicts of interest – with the agent being paid by both student and university.

The use of agents has mushroomed over the past few years, as UK universities seek to recruit more international students who pay full-cost fees. According to researchers, UK universities are shelling out £60m a year in agents’ fees and recruiting 50,000 students annually through this method.

A study by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire has unearthed cases of fraud – one where six Sri Lankan students were “conned” out of £3,000. They had paid their agent to set them up at Blackburn College for a year – only to find the college had never received the money.

In another case, a Nigerian agency not connected with any UK universities was found to have been selling fake places at Liverpool Hope University.

In addition, the researchers uncovered several cases of “a potentially serious ethical conflict” arising from agents being paid by both the universities and their prospective students.

“This raises the concern that agents are giving advice to students based on their own financial interests rather than the specific needs of the students,” said Professor Graham Galbraith and Richard Brabner, the researchers.

In other cases, it was found the agents had completed the student’s application forms – and the student had limited knowledge of English on arrival at the university.

The researchers cite evidence from another paper on recruitment of Chinese students, and quote one student as saying: “My agent wrote the recommendation letters for me. I just needed to provide three names of my high school teachers or college instructors and he took care of the rest. I don’t know what’s in the letter!”

Professor Galbraith and Mr Brabner cite research which shows that a high proportion of overseas students believe it is the “normal and expected thing to do” to pay agents to secure them a university place. “Asian families, in particular, believe that the best way to get into Western universities is to pay for an intermediary,” the report says. However, 70 per cent of UK institutions using agents say they were not aware if the student was paying the agent, too.

Under the British Council plans, all UK education institutions will be able to see which agents have signed up to the code of conduct.

“We do not accredit education agents or agencies,” said Kevin Van-Cauter, British Council International Higher Education Adviser. “But we hope the global trained agents database ... will add greater assurance to institutions that they are getting the best possible services.”

The UK recruits 488,380 overseas students a year, of whom 333, 995 are from outside the EU. This is expected to rise by 126,000 by 2024.

Simon Read, director of Uni-Pay – which operates an international payments system for foreign students’ fees, said the British Council’s move was “very positive”. “It is a very complex system between agents, students and universities at present,” he said, “and there is a lack of structure which can leave it open to abuse. The more visibility and understanding we have on both sides – students and universities – the better. Unless there is some proper control, it can leave loopholes. The trouble is the sector has not been very open in the past. If you have a negative experience [with an agent], my view is that should be shared for the benefit of all.”

Under the code of conduct, agreements signed between universities and agents would make it clear whether or not students were being  asked to pay for the agent’s services.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, the umbrella body representing vice-chancellors, said: “The UK’s international reputation for excellent higher education is based upon the highest quality and standards.

“While universities already have their own processes for selecting international agents, the British Council’s new list can serve as a useful additional tool for institutions. This is a positive step in efforts to protect and enhance  the reputation of UK higher education worldwide.”

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£30000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An independent boys' school sit...

Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate - Newly Qualified Teachers Required For Sept 2015

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Graduate Teachers/ Newly Qua...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required for a 'Good@ school - Ofsted 2015

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: My client primary school loc...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers Required in Norwich and Great Yarmouth

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am working on behalf of a ...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map