In a further indication of increased government scrutiny of foreign education providers, a number of new scandals relating to bogus degrees, misleading institutional advertising and even entirely “fake” colleges have been making news around the world in recent weeks.
- The Saudi Ministry of Higher Education has uncovered 110 offices selling forged degrees from non-Saudi universities.
- In China, the police have their work cut out for them with a rash of individuals and “institutions” issuing fake degrees and credentials, creating forged certificates and running “qualifications mills.”
- In Singapore, the government has had to introduce a new advertising code to protect students from irresponsible and misleading promotions; failure to comply with the code’s requirements may result in penalties including fines and imprisonment for up to six months.
- The Indian higher education commission recently released a list of 21 “fake universities” – many of them no more than a mailing address or signboard hanging over a shop, temple or hole-in-the-wall office space. A government regulator that focuses on technical schools named 340 private institutions across India that run courses without its accreditation.
As startling and disturbing as these cases are, they are in some ways merely a symptom of the dramatic demand driving the international education industry. International education now represents a major export sector for many leading study abroad destinations across the world, adding billions to domestic economies like those in the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.
In any such dynamic economic sector, there will always be those who are prepared to operate with questionable standards and practices. And this in turn will reliably draw the attention of governments and external regulators, as seems to be the case in a growing number of important education markets around the world.
At the same time, we also see increasing evidence of strengthened quality standards across the industry, whether in the form of new accreditation schemes, formal agent training courses or improved quality assurance practices. The ethics surrounding the use of agents is also a hot global issue, with the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in the US currently debating the practice.
And now most recently, officials from the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand issued a joint statement of principles for ethical international student recruitment. The “London Statement” stresses professionalism and ethical responsibility for education recruitment agents.
The London Statement sets out seven principles that agents are encouraged to adhere to:
- Agents and consultants practice responsible business ethics
- Agents and consultants provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner
- Agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements
- Agents and consultants protect the interests of minors
- Agents and consultants provide current and up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ
- Agents and consultants act professionally
- Agents and consultants work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice
“It is important that the reputation and integrity of international education continues to be held in high regard,” said Colin Walters, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Education International, on the release of the London Statement. “We must ensure that international students receive advice which will enable them to have high quality educational experiences.”
Such moves towards self-regulation and strengthening industry standards may well be the more durable and effective response to some of the questionable practices we see in the news today.