Canberra urged to prevent ‘unethical’ onshore foreign student recruitment

Australian government advised to ban agents from taking commission for recruiting foreign students already in country and to ‘link’ visas to institutions

June 9, 2023
Hands holding australian dollars to make a payment
Source: iStock

Canberra should forbid agents from charging commissions for recruiting foreign students who are already in Australia, and visas should be annulled when students change institutions, Indian agents have recommended.

In a letter to home affairs minister Clare O’Neil, the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) has proposed ways to “fix the loopholes” fuelling “unethical poaching” and “course-hopping”.

“There is a huge increase in newly arrived international students changing providers and enrolling in lower-level programmes,” AAERI president Nishi Borra told Ms O’Neil. “They are young and impressionable…to…agents or [institutions] who offer fee discounts, cashbacks, job promises, migration pathways and other freebies.

“Rules are being flouted, there is increase [in] fraud and the brand of international education in Australia is being affected.”

AAERI’s misgivings are shared by lawmakers, civil servants and other commentators. Concerns mostly centre on higher education students switching to vocational courses after arriving in Australia, often by exploiting a “concurrent certificate of enrolment” provision enabling them to take multiple courses simultaneously.

Alison Cleary, acting head of the Department of Education’s international quality branch, told a parliamentary committee hearing that mechanisms created for “benign” purposes – such as addressing mismatches between students’ courses and their study needs – were “being employed to facilitate more malign ends”.

Committee member Julian Hill, a former chief of international education in the Victorian civil service, said “dodgy operators” were “stealing genuine students, demanding 50 per cent commissions and selling work visas”.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported from leaked emails that suggested education officials had known about widespread misuse of the concurrent study “loophole” for 15 months, but failed to act. It said students who had enrolled with universities to boost their prospects of securing visas switched to cheaper courses within weeks without obtaining releases from their “principal” institutions.

Mr Borra said the problem could largely be resolved if officials enforced an existing visa condition requiring students to be enrolled at the same level as their initial courses, or higher.

But he urged Ms O’Neil to go further in linking visas to specified institutions and requiring students to obtain fresh visas for any course changes.

He also urged the government to “clearly define” agents’ responsibilities and to ban commissions for the onshore recruitment of overseas students.

Karen Sandercock, first assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s international division, said the government was looking at agents “very closely”.

“We’re very interested in how we can help providers strengthen the oversight of their agents,” she told the committee. “Student transfers…seem to be particularly associated with onshore agents.”

Education minister Jason Clare told ABC that he was working with Ms O’Neil and skills minister Brendan O’Connor in “looking at the reforms we need to take here to ensure the integrity of our system”.

Mr Clare criticised “the unscrupulous behaviour of some education agents here in Australia who are enticing students to drop out of their university degrees”.

The government is also consulting on recommendations from its migration review in May, while the education department is investigating agents’ activities as part of long-standing discussions over potential changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students Framework.

The Universities Accord is also examining international students’ issues. A letter to accord panel chair Mary O’Kane from deputy fair work ombudsman Rachel Volzke said universities should “do more to increase awareness of international students’ workplace rights”.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles