Agent role to be reviewed in Canada’s new international education strategy

Published 17/05/2023

Education agents are a “key vulnerability” to Canada, Global Affairs Canada has said, as talks begin on the next version of the country’s international education strategy.

New discussion papers suggest that agent regulation could be a priority for the refreshed strategy, which is set to launch in April 2024.

“The unethical practices of some education agents used by certain Canadian education institutions pose a direct risk to Canada’s reputation as a provider of high-quality education services,” the papers read.

“The issue has risen to prominence recently and is regarded as a key vulnerability to Canada’s international education sector,” they continue.

A TV documentary that aired in Canada in October 2022 showed education agents in India promising students they could easily obtain permanent residency after graduation.

In its discussions with institutions and education organisations, GAC will ask whether agents can be self-regulated by the sector or whether a body such as the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants of Canada should be given responsibility for doing so.

It will also look into the role of aggregators, considering whether they should be held accountable for the actions of the sub-agents they work with.

“The issue has risen to prominence recently”

Graham Barber, assistant director, international relations at Universities Canada, said agents are “important” part of the international education landscape, providing “valuable services” but that “there are bad actors and disreputable agencies that can threaten the integrity of Canada’s system”.

“We welcome closer consultation with Global Affairs Canada to help protect international students from fraudulent agents, while still allowing licensed, professional agencies to provide valuable overseas representation,” Barber said.

Alain Roy, vice president of international partnerships at Colleges and Institutes Canada, said the organisation would work with GAC to “champion solutions that increase equity and quality of educational experiences for international students and create well-defined and transparent pathways to employment and permanent residence to support Canada’s immigration objectives”.

“We are exploring how colleges can strengthen recruitment practices while also enhancing the integrity of Canada’s immigration processes through better sharing of information and more targeted promotional efforts in new markets,” Roy added.

Diversification is also set to be an important theme in Canada’s next international education strategy, including diversification of programs, destinations within Canada, study levels and regional diversification within source countries.

GAC said that increasing the range of study locations within Canada will “spread the burden on services… while spreading the economic benefits of international students more equitably”.

Over half (411,985) of all international students in Canada held permits linked to Ontario institutions in 2022.

The strategy will also focus on widening source countries as students from India and China continue to make up the bulk of Canada’s international student population.

“The high reliance on international student enrolments from India, particularly in the Ontario college sector, poses the risks of significant revenue fluctuations if external or geopolitical factors cause a decline from this source country,” GAC wrote, adding that cohorts have become less diverse since 2015.

However, it said there were “enormous” opportunities to diversify within India, as most students currently come from the northern region.

“The unethical practices of some education agents used by certain institutions pose a direct risk to Canada’s reputation”

Diversification was a priority in Canada’s previous international education strategy but the department said it had “limited success”, in part due to the pandemic which prevented institutions from attempting to reach new markets.

Universities Canada’s current focus countries include Vietnam, the Philippines, Colombia, Senegal, Morocco, Ghana and Kenya.

Over the next year, the government will consult with stakeholder organisations and provincial governments. These discussions will also cover topics including digital marketing, scholarships, alumni relations, sustainability and indigenous partnerships.

Barber said, “We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on the new IES and hope that together our institutions and Global Affairs Canada can build a Team Canada approach to international education.”

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