INDIA: New law on overseas university agents

A new law making it mandatory for all education agents to register with the Indian government or face fines or jail terms, has been proposed in the wake of reports that some recruitment agents have misled students into joining fake universities abroad, such as the allegedly dubious California-based Tri-Valley University.

The incident in California outraged the Indian public and government when it was reported that US authorities put ankle tags on Indian students enrolled in Tri-Valley, in order to monitor their movements after the university was exposed by the authorities as a 'diploma mill' offering an easy route to immigration and employment in the US.

With the incident escalating into a diplomatic row this week, it could also have important repercussions on the proposed bill
to allow foreign higher education providers into India.

The Ministry of Overseas Indian affairs said this week it would introduce a bill regulating overseas university agents, during the upcoming parliamentary session this month. "The new law will ensure that such incidents do not occur. It provides for both a fine and a jail term for unregistered education agents found luring students abroad," a senior official said.

Agents typically assist students with visa and university applications, English language requirements and accommodation abroad. Some recruit on behalf of particular overseas universities for a commission payable by the foreign institution.

Some of the Indian students at Tri-Valley said they had been duped by unscrupulous education agents in India, who did not alert them to problems at the university.

The new bill also aims to create a database of students studying abroad, but does not make it compulsory for them to register before leaving. Registering, however, will entitle students to seek government help in checking out the authenticity of the institute and the course before they leave India.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi had already told the parliament in July 2009 that the ministry would create a database of students going abroad.

Rajiv Lochan, director of the education consultancy Global Reach, said in cases such as Tri-Valley University the fault lay with both US officials and education agents in India.

"Both parties failed to check the authenticity of the university. The new bill that aims to register agents is a good step in helping students and cleansing the system," Lochan said.

Australian officials had already asked India to more closely regulate education agents after a spate of immigration-related higher education scams in Australia in 2009. At the time India's human resources ministry informed Australian education officials that it was considering measures to deal with education agents.

Meanwhile much-awaited legislation to allow foreign institutions to set up branches in India has been subjected to increased parliamentary scrutiny as the Tri-Valley case highlighted the issue of bogus and sub-standard foreign institutions.

Human resources ministry officials last week faced tough questioning from parliamentarians about the entry of foreign players proposed under the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill introduced in Parliament last year and currently being examined by a parliamentary committee.

"We want stringent measures to ensure that a Tri-Valley University-like situation does not recur here," a member of the parliamentary committee said during a hearing this week.

Ministry officials sought to assure parliamentarians that the foreign providers bill included provisions to ensure reputable institutions would be given clearance to operate in the country.

But parliament could push for even tougher regulations for foreign universities to guard against unscrupulous and low quality institutions setting up in India.

Related links

INDIA: Long wait ahead for foreign universities
GLOBAL: Abolish agents and third-party recruiters
US: International higher education needs recruiters