Federal block on overseas agents 'harms' US colleges

The US Department of State has been accused of making “ill-informed and misguided” policy statements against the use of international student recruitment agents and “doing significant harm to the higher education industry” in America.

June 1, 2012

Mitch Leventhal, the vice-chancellor for global affairs at the State University of New York, made the claims today in a pre-prepared statement issued at the annual conference of the Association of International Educators, Nafsa, in Houston, where he was also due to speak on the subject.

While the use of agents to attract overseas students is widespread in the UK and Australia, it remains less prevalent in America. US law bans the payment of agents in the domestic recruitment market, which had led to a widespread misconception that overseas agents are also banned.

Although their use overseas is legal and is growing among US institutions, there remains widespread opposition to the use of agents on ethical grounds.

In his Nafsa statement, Dr Leventhal said that this unease had hurt the US. He said that during the 1990s, a “vast industry of international student recruitment agencies” emerged. They were “nurtured by America’s Anglophone competitors in higher education – in particular the UK and Australia – which fuelled their rapid growth in their higher education exports, while eroding American market share”.

The US had 723,7 international students in 2010-11, worth $20 billion (£13 billion) to the economy, and more than any other nation. But international students represent just 3.5 per cent of total enrolment in the US.

The US State Department’s “Policy Guidance for EducationUSA Centres on Commercial Recruitment Agents” states that commercial recruitment agents “do not represent the breadth of the US higher education system, nor can they represent US universities equitably” and that they “restrict the options available to foreign students”. It prohibits EducationUSA centres from providing “advising services to or with commercial agents who in turn charge to provide these services to others".

Dr Leventhal is a founder of the American International Recruitment Council, which was set up by a number of US universities in an attempt to develop industry-based consensus standards on student recruitment.

It has established an accreditation programme for recruitment agents, setting out professional standards certified agents must adhere to.

Dr Leventhal said that the AIRC developed its accreditation system with the “full expectation that these efforts would be recognised by relevant federal agencies”.

His statement said: “Many of AIRC’s members have been disappointed that some US federal agencies, in particular the Department of State and its Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs, has continued to issue ill-informed and misguided policy statements and directives which have directly undermined AIRC’s efforts while doing significant harm to the higher education industry.”

phil.baty@tsleducation.com

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