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A Call for Education Agent Transparency

Our two previous postings have been a call for agents to conform to university standards and to only represent credible schools and for schools to only work with certified and credible agents. For those of us who are concerned about the well being of students, quality, credibility, and trust are the key tenants to our success.

Students will succeed when they are placed in schools where they fit well. Schools will succeed when they find students who are capable of the work and who can actively participate in campus life. If students are not fully qualified for these schools, they can find plenty of other gateways to success such as intensive English schools, college-prep pathway programs, and community colleges.

Setting the Standards of Transparency

Recruiters overseas are not always concerned with credibility, which challenges families to see through a number of soft claims and sketchy promises. Drive on any major freeway in India and you will see billboards promising admission to leading American schools. Newspapers in countries all over the world are filled with advertisements claiming access to the world’s elite universities. Even the most regulated of expositions will have charlatans operating as if they were an official university representative, with booths full of brochures and promotional material all using university logos, often without the university’s knowledge.

Sometimes, these folks are loosely endorsed by universities who may send an alumni member to an event with a letter of introduction. Working under the local customs, this letter may afford an alliance with a local business that will use this endorsement to gain event entrance and solicit students to sign on with their consultancy. The consultant performs a bait and switch type of swindle by pretending to represent one institution and then drawing students to explore other schools.

The Need for Reliable University Information

It is fair to say that during the search process, every prospective student, both domestic and international, will have visited a university’s web site repeatedly. Schools’ web sites will often include a few pages dedicated to international students. More often than not, these pages focus more on application requirements than on actually promoting the school. Some of the better sites identify staff members who work with international applicants, but often they do not contain international friendly contact information. Email as the only contact form is limiting, international phone calls are too expensive, and unfortunately, very few post a Skype ID. Some of the reasons that many schools use agents are to make up for the lack of staff, promotional material, and contact hours available from the school.

Schools Should Identify Their Agents

Having agents is one thing, but there is a real need for schools to let the markets know who their agents are. With a cloud of confusion around the credibility of schools and their sources of information, schools are encouraged to identify their official representatives. Australia requires that their schools identify their agents on their web site; We believe this should be required in the United States.

Since the majority of overseas students come to Australia through agents, this has proved to be a practice that American universities should follow. Here are a few examples of wording and design from some of Australia’s best-regarded universities:

The recommended best practice for American schools is to offer agents as an option for prospective students. The University of Cincinnati is one of the schools that have most effectively used agents to build international success. Their web site lists contacts in the admissions office, but also suggests agents as an alternative.

Don’t Use Agents? Then Say So.

If a university does not contract with agents then they are best served by stating so. From their international students web page, Penn State University makes it very clear that they do not have overseas representatives.

Be Transparent; Be Vigilant

Schools support transparency, professional practice, and a sense of responsibility to the student when they are definitive in their policies; agents are no exception. If a school uses an agent, they should identify that agent on their website and the agent should do the same. As the AIRC standards detail, agents should not link to schools with which they do not have agreements.

Schools can then become vigilant in protecting their brands and their reputations in local markets. Their contracts with agents should stipulate that the contract is with the agent and that the agent cannot sub-contract recruitment. Agents under contract should not pass along their authority to represent the school and schools should be wary of unauthorized representation. This issue of transparency and sub agency will be of particular interest in the great agent debate.

Mark Shay is a business developer with a long history of success helping higher education institutions recruit students. In an illustrative career that has spanned three decades, Shay has served thousands of customers, ranging from individual faculty members and graduate deans, to university presidents and foreign governments. He is well known for balancing the non-commercial spirit of educators with the commercial realities of operating efficiently and effectively using technology to improve results. He founded, and has worked in leadership roles at two universities and IDP Education. He has recently started a consulting practice and is serving as an advisor to AAE. Mark is also the editor of ChinaTrend: Insights into the Higher Education market in China


You can post comments about AAE for the American International Recruitment Council here.

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