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Student recruitment agents sometimes commit ‘outright fraud’

According to a recent report by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), 'The Agent Question: Insights from Students, Universities and Agents', there is ‘no question’ that suspect and outright fraudulent practice exists among some international agents. These agents work to recruit students on behalf of universities.

Source: THES Source: THES
03-09-2014 by The Times Higher Education

A report out today, “The Agent Question: Insights from Students, Universities and Agents”, published by the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education, claims that there is “no question” that suspect and outright fraudulent practice exists among the international agents that work to recruit students on behalf of universities. According to the report, arrangements where agents benefit financially on a per-enrolment basis encourage the “admission of poorly qualified applicants, mismatches between student and institution, and even outright fraud”. 

In one example detailed in the report, an agent set up an email account in a student’s name in order to have “total control” over any communication with the colleges to which he had applied. This example was taken from the summary of a recent meeting of the US Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling. According to the report, the student was told that any attempt to access the email address would result in the breakdown of his application process.

The OACAC summary continues: “I also heard about forged recommendation letters, fraudulent transcripts, phantom test-takers, even faked Skype interviews in which more-fluent English speakers took the place of prospective students fooling colleges into thinking applicants had the language proficiency necessary for admission.” The OBHE says that this as a “typical litany of problems associated with agents”.

The report says, however, that despite the findings, it would be wrong to conclude that “all agents are bad”. Furthermore, it would be wrong to abolish agents in general as this would be akin to saying that the widespread phenomenon of diploma mills “means that all universities are bad and should be abolished”.

“Education agents… are a response to market conditions, and the industry is young, complex, fragmented and dynamic, not to mention thoroughly commercial,” it says. “Such an environment inevitably attracts some level of substandard practice and fraud, but the underlying need for agents is real, growing and legitimate.”

There is “simply no evidence of widespread dissatisfaction on the part of students or institutions with respect to agent use”, the report states, eventhough many agents may “go too far” in promoting particular institutions, or “admit students under false pretences or those for whom the institution is a poor fit”.

The report adds that student “satisfaction” with agents could be interpreted negatively, since they may be satisfied because agents may “ghost-write essays or alter grades”. “Equally, are institutions ‘satisfied’ with agents because agents supply lots of students or because there is clear evidence that those students are a good fit and make an informed decision,” asks the report.