FOUR Chinese students stormed into the administration office of a northern English university one day and demanded the laptops promised to them for signing up with the respectable institution.
“I was surprised, but they told me that their agent back in China had promised them that if they enrolled in my university, they would each get a laptop. They have an official letter supposedly from the university stating this, but what they didn’t know was that it is a fake,” tells the former administrator at the aforementioned university, Maurice Dimmock.
Dimmock, adds that he had no choice but to go out and get the laptops for the students after hearing them. “The cost of the laptops was subtracted from the fees of the agent, of course, and the agent's service was instantly terminated.”
This, unfortunately, he adds, is one of the milder scams that a foreign student might fall into. Others are not so lucky.
“There are many dishonest agents out there who do not have the students’ best interests at heart and want to cheat them. They give various false promises to students, such as comfortable accommodation, unlimited number of language classes, etc.
“And then there are those from bogus universities or are fronts for human smuggling syndicates,” reveals Dimmock.
Some agents also fail to tell students that in the United States and Australia, there are extra fees for things like sports, lockers and examinations.
“Or they are told that accommodation is guaranteed when it is really a bed in a dormitory for seven or eight people,” he adds.
In a more severe case in the United Kingdom, he shares, a university sent out acceptance letters for more than 1,000 applications from Pakistan, but only two turned up at the university, “The rest of them, we know, had come to the UK to work.”
The crux of the problem, he opines, is the lack of a global body that can set a code of practice or any form of quality control for education agents, who act as the middle persons for institutions and students.
Education agencies like the British Council usually have no record of these errant agents.
In a bid to set a code of practice or code of operations for agents, a worldwide accrediting body for educational agents called Quality International Study Abroad Network (Qisan) was set up last year.
Dimmock, the director of the network, explains that Qisan's aim is to provide service guidelines for agents, representatives, counsellors and private educational institutions.
“In Malaysia, for example, a high number of parents send their kids overseas and they want the assurance that they are going for the right course at the right institutions with the right credentials. They also want to know that the universities will look after their children.
“Yet, this is sometimes not the case as there are universities which take their money but give them no support. A good agent, on the other hand, would be able to give good advice on important matters,” he adds.
Nonetheless, he notes, Malaysia is a mature market, and students are well informed, while many agents that he has met are very professional in their dealings.
The issue, however, lies in Malaysia being a “transit” country for many students who have difficulty entering the US, UK and Australia directly for their studies.
These students, mainly from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Middle East, take advantage of the twinning programmes here before they “transfer over” to the partner universities.
“There has been a marked increase of these cases. Students from other countries who can’t get in to the US or UK directly come into Malaysia on an interim basis first,” he says.
He says Malaysia is increasingly seen as a point to attain their higher education by international students.
“It is seen as an ideal route for advancement as the Malaysian education system is progressive with all the twinning courses, while its society is modern enough for students to get acclimatised to a different culture before going on to their main destination.”
This, combined with the government's initiative to increase the number of international students in Malaysia, can put the country’s reputation at risk if illegal agents are allowed to thrive.
“We need to ask where they are getting these international students. There is a proliferation of unscrupulous agents in these countries and Malaysia has to be careful not to gettarnished by these agents,” says Dimmock.
Qisan, although a limited company, is not into profit-making, explains Dimmock.
“We put students in touch with reputable agents, and this means those that are registered and accredited. Our network of quality professional education agents are for universities from anywhere around the world and they will be able to provide honest, ethical advice, thus ensuring that students are able to obtain a university education that will meet their needs.
“Students are not charged for the service; instead it is the agents who pay us a fee.”
In Malaysia, there are currently only eight accredited agents registered with the network, but Qisan already has a base in Canada and Australia with other countries like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bangladesh, Korea, China, Pakistan and Vietnam on the list.
“So, if we get complaints about particular agents from students, then the local branch will investigate.
That is why we are looking at setting up an office in Malaysia.”
Another area that Qisan is looking into is to help universities develop their programmes overseas.
“We are working with a local institution, UCSI (University College Sedaya International) to get British universities to recognise its degrees, accept its qualifications and facilitate credit transfer.
“We are also interested in helping private institutions branch out to the feeder countries like China or India, and find partners there,” he says.
Although he admits that this is something colleges and universities can do themselves, he adds that it will add to their costs besides being time consuming, “so it is cheaper and more efficient for us to do it for them.”
This, he adds, is an important step as Malaysia is growing as a regional centre for education.
“But,” he stresses, “Malaysian institutions need to be careful.”
“It takes only one bad experience to give Malaysian higher education a bad name.”
For details, visit www.qisan.com
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