Code of ethics for international student recruitment agents

An international forum has developed a code of ethics to apply to education agents and consultants who recruit international students for universities, colleges and schools around the world.

The forum says the code and an accompanying statement of principles it has also published will facilitate a common approach and raise ethical standards in the recruitment of international students by education agents and consultants.

Called the 'London statement', the document sets out an ethical framework consisting of seven items relating to ethical behaviour and a set of seven principles. It urges agents to make their business dealings more open by providing written agreements, promising to offer honest and accurate information and adhering to high standards of professionalism.

The forum is known as the Roundtable on the Integrity of International Education and consists of senior education officials from Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. It is backed by the British Council.

The roundtable meets to “share knowledge and experience, and identify common areas of practice and concern, as well as scope for collaboration”, according to the documents outlining the code of ethics.

Following talks in London last month hosted by the council, education officials from the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand issued a joint statement of principles for ethical international student recruitment.

“At the initial meeting of the roundtable in 2010, Australia proposed developing a joint international code of ethics for international education agents,” says a release from the forum.

Although that proposal was presumably agreed to by the six member countries, only the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have signed up to the statement of principles.

The participating countries will each work to implement the principles with the agents they use, and will share information about their efforts at another international forum next year.

How the countries implement the principles will be decided by each, although this is likely to be incorporated into training and communications with agents.

In many countries, some agents and consultants have been accused of unethical or even illegal conduct, causing problems for students and institutions, and damaging the reputation of their profession, said Pat Killingley, the British Council’s director of higher education.

Killingley said the issuing of the statement of principles was not about getting tough with bad agents but about promoting and encouraging the very good practices that many already follow.

“Our schools, colleges and universities have got some very good agents out there. This is about supporting the vast majority of responsible agents and setting out clearly what our expectations are, to help ensure that international students receive a good service and sound advice when they consult an agent,” she said.

“The next step will be to talk to the agents’ representative bodies in countries that send many students to study overseas such as India and China, to get them to sign up to the statement.”

Increasing numbers of students now move across national borders seeking education and training opportunities in order to gain internationally recognised qualifications, the forum media release notes. It says there are indications that the demand for international education could rise to almost eight million students by 2025.

“The growth in the number of international students has been accompanied by an increase in the number of education agents and consultants who provide services to them. Education agents and consultants are integral and important stakeholders in international education.”

Uni-Pay, a British company handling thousands of tuition fee transactions between overseas students, universities and English language schools every year, welcomed the release of the code of ethics and the "London statement".

Managing Director Simon Read said the statement represented significant progress towards standardising the practices of agents: “Every year, hundreds of thousands of international students seeking places at English language schools and universities make their applications through agents,” Read said.

“Most provide a good and valuable service, but a minority have been accused of unethical or even illegal conduct. Even among the good agents, there currently exists a myriad of different ways in which educators and agents interact to complete student applications and fee payments.”

He said the new statement of principles should provide a firm foundation for creating a more uniform system that was easier to understand and less expensive to administer.

A report on what the four nations have done to achieve the aims will be presented to a roundtable meeting next year.

The "London statement"

The "London statement" says the principles are based on an underlying ethical framework of:
  • • Integrity – Being straightforward and honest in all professional and business dealings.
  • • Objectivity – Not allowing professional judgment to be compromised by bias or conflict of interest.
  • • Professional competence and due care – Maintaining professional knowledge and professional service, and acting diligently.
  • • Transparency – Declaring conflicts of interest to all clients, especially when service fees are charged to both the education provider and the prospective student.
  • • Confidentiality – Respecting and preserving the confidentiality of personal information acquired and not releasing such information to third parties without proper authority.
  • • Professional behaviour – Acting in accordance with relevant laws and regulations and dealing with clients competently, diligently and fairly.
  • • Professionalism and purpose – Acting in a manner that will serve the interests of clients and the wider society even at the expense of self-interest.
The seven principles say agents and consultants should:
  • • Practise responsible business ethics.
  • • Provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner.
  • • Develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements.
  • • Protect the interests of minors.
  • • Provide up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ.
  • • Act professionally.
  • • Work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice.