Education Agents need lessons on honesty

The decision of the Indian Government to initiate measures to regulate education agents operating in that country could not have been better timed. According to Indian Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, the incidence of students from India being subject to harassment, misinformation and other misdeeds has been on the increase and hence the need for a regulatory framework is pronounced.

Just as in the case of immigration, a large number of students from India are lured into unhealthy practices perpetrated by shoddy agents, who encourage the youngsters to obtain fake degrees and certificates to qualify for entry into universities and tertiary institutions abroad. And upon arrival, many of them are subject to extortion of money to obtain work permits and permanent residence.

In one of the worst cases of its kind, Indian students enrolled at the Tri-Valley University in California, US, were taken through the illicit route of getting diplomas and certificates, which in turn make them eligible for employment visas and eventually that all-time favourite, The Green Card.

The ‘Diploma Mill,’ as the varsity is now dubiously called, has been a source of insult and embarrassment for Indian students, who are reportedly forced by the authorities to wear ‘electronic anklets,’ to monitor their movements.

The situation has rightly angered the Indian Government, with its External Affairs Ministry lodging a protest in the US State Department.

Education providers in New Zealand have largely stayed away from granting fake certificates and diplomas (although there have been allegations that some Chinese-owned and operated institutions are involved) but they could also easily fall victims to scams.

International students from India are becoming a major source of revenue for Australia and New Zealand, which have traditionally been ‘countries of fourth choice’ after the US, UK and Canada.

Britain has been a magnet for foreign students, thanks in part to the reflected glory of Oxford and Cambridge and to the fact that English is the global language of business.

But its attraction may be weakening. Too often universities offer their paying guests a shoddy service. A common gripe is that they provide little customised support in return for their whopping fees; language problems and social isolation are rife. Locals, too, can resent foreign students, particularly if large groups come from a single place and do not mix, or if their poor English holds up a whole class, or if there is any hint that they are admitted preferentially for financial reasons.

Other countries are trying harder these days to grab a slice of the lucrative foreign market. American institutions are recruiting more foreign students, and an increasing number of universities around the world. For example, institutions in Germany, Japan and China are offering courses taught in English.

The Governments on either side of the Tasman are keen to boost their export education sector, which bring in billions of dollars in fees, in addition to sale of goods and services. The respective Governments cap neither their numbers nor their fees.

But the need to regulate the industry is greater today than ever before.

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