Nacac issues guidelines for working with agents

23, September, 2014

The National Association for College Admission Counselling (Nacac) in the USA has issued a guide to its member institutions on working with agents for international student recruitment.

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The website of the National Association for College Admission Counselling

The document provides guidance aimed at institutions considering the usage of agents, following Nacac’s landmark decision last year to change its Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP) and permit members to use the commission-based agency model for recruitment of international students. Such practices have long been banned for the recruitment of domestic students.

In terms of clarity and communication to students, Nacac recommends that policy regarding agents is published on an institution’s website, including reference to how agents are compensated and any exclusivity arrangements. Institutions should advise students and parents what services they should and should not expect from an agent.

The guidelines reiterate that Nacac members have agreed to provide a conspicuous statement in line with adherence to the SPGP.

Nacac recommends that institutions draw their own contracts and do not use agents’ contracts, and advises various points to incorporate, including termination conditions, duration, scope of the agency’s authority and prohibition of sub-contracting. With regards to payment matters, it advises prohibiting agents from handling fees payable to the institution from students.

The guidance warns against “double dipping”, where agents also charge students a fee. The guidance states, “Nacac recommends that member institutions prohibit recruitment agencies from charging students fees for advisement and application assistance, as a condition of a contractual relationship.”

Nacac advises institutions should be fully consulted on the regulatory environments in which they operate, noting that misrepresentation by a third party could jeopardise an institution’s eligibility for state funding. Schools should also be aware of agency regulations in source countries, giving the example that many Chinese agencies are not approved by the Ministry of Education.

The effects of an international student drive on the campus, risk management, accounts management and accommodation stock should be fully considered before undertaking agency relationships, the report says.

Advice for the vetting of potential agency partners is provided, and Nacac recommends reference checking and face-to-face contact. The guidelines advise that national agency associations such as Brazilian association Belta,  Jaos in Japan and Russia’s Area work to promote standards and professional practice and highlights the Federation of Education and Language Consultants Associations (Felca) code of conduct as advancing professional ethics and standards. It also recommends agency workshops such as Alphe and ICEF as an opportunity to meet reference-checked agents.

Nacac recommends that institutions should provide regular training to agents, keep a regularly updated manual for agents, and monitor ongoing agency relations via metrics including student surveys, enrolment rates and graduation rates.

The executive summary outlines why agent-based recruitment has been “the subject of considerable controversy” in the USA: risks to various shareholders, including fraud, legal action and financial damage to students; and questions over the “propriety” of per-capita commission and whether international students are aware that such payments occur when they use an agent.

Nacac estimates that around a quarter of American universities use agents, with the practice far less prevalent than in the UK and Australia.

However, elsewhere in the report, Nacac concedes that recruitment policies may be disparate across different departments of an institution, including English language programmes, suggesting agent usage may actually be more common. Nacac recommends that institutions develop an institution-wide policy on agent usage with one central contact managing agency relations.

The full guidance document is freely available on the Nacac website.

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