Education agents finally under the microscope of Australian parliament

3 March 2019: Report of a parliamentary inquiry into the efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration and education agents has highlighted a number of issues that resonate concerns often raised by international students from Nepal, not to mention the ones highlighted last month when a group of affected students gave an emotional interview on live television.

The parliamentary inquiry was supplied evidence by “a number of international students” who alleged that education agents were operating in an unlawful and unethical manner.

Although unrelated to recent barrage of negative reports about the ordeal of hundreds of Nepalese students who are currently studying at a training provider in Australia, the report by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration has suggested that conduct of privately-run and “largely unregulated” education agents is basically a problem zone. A particular allegation made by Andres Sayago, Managing Director of an on-shore student agency, appeared to reflect one of key complaints of the affected Nepalese international students: “education providers were allowing larger education agencies to behave unethically.”

In his submission to the parliamentary inquiry, Mr Sayago went on to claim that “most student agencies are abusive and include very cruel conditions in the contracts; student agencies provide fraudulent signatures on documentation; and some agents blackmail their students when they want to change courses, education providers or when they decide to leave the country”.

Many submitters 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”.

The inquiry initially did not intend to make “education agents” its primary focus. However, following significant amount of evidence provided to the Committee, it believed that education agents need “a closer examination”.

Currently, education providers are required to monitor and regulate their education agents. Submitters told the parliamentary inquiry that this regulation was largely ineffective and advocated for a proper registration of education agents.

Migration Alliance, a membership organisation of Registered Migration Agents, also held the view that education agents are not being properly regulated by the Department of Home Affairs.

“It is the view of Migration Alliance that one of the significant barriers to the elimination or mitigation of fraud is the continued and inexplicable failure of the Department to regulate Education Agents and the failure to acknowledge that they inevitably provide immigration assistance,” reads the Alliance’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry.

Comments made by the parliamentary Joint Committee:

  • Publishing education agent performance data improves transparency; provides education providers a greater understanding about the work of their agents; and enables international students to make informed choices.
  • The Committee notes that on 10 October 2018, the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education, committed to publish performance data on education agents in Australia’s international education system.
  • Phase 5 of the publication strategy ‘will result in full publication of education performance data on a public website and will be completed by the middle of 2019.’
  • The Committee believes that this strategy is long overdue. Information sharing provides greater transparency of education agent performance to international students, education providers and the wider community. The Committee recommends an enhancement to this strategy.
  • The Committee has formed the view that the website should contain a searchable education agent register to enable anyone to search on the performance of education agents operating in Australia and overseas. The register should also include information on whether the education agent has been sanctioned, suspended or had their written agreement with an education provider cancelled.

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