By Matthew Knott, News Editor of Study Travel Magazine

One of our news stories the week related to the British Council unveiling a new list of agents for UK institutions to access and use, should they so desire.

The database will include agents that have undertaken the British Council (BC) training scheme, have adopted the principles of the so-called ‘London Statement’ of ethical principles, and have agreed to periodic assessment of adherence to those principles.

Unfortunately, the national media response to this has been somewhat erroneous; displaying a scepticism and ignorance of the agency business. The Independent proclaimed, “New ethical code of practice will save students from rogue agents” in its headline. The implication that any agent that isn’t BC trained is “rogue” is absurd. And the headline is factually incorrect anyway – this BC list is not legally binding, merely an optional service to institutions, which ultimately decide risk and “rogue” for themselves.

The Telegraph stated that for the first time agents would undertake “formal accreditation”. Wrong again. In fact, the British Council press release on which the story was based featured this quote, “We do not accredit (my italics) education agents or agencies.”

Both news reports expressed a surprise at the amount of money that UK universities have paid to agents, ranging from UK£60 million to UK£120 million according to their sources. Another way of looking at this of course is to conclude that agents are therefore providing student business worth 5 to 10 times more than that, a fact that would be praised in most other industries.

The BC release doesn’t specify how it will assess adherence to these principles, and it needs to be made clear that there are ethical principles enshrined in the operations of many agency associations worldwide. Nonetheless, a focus on ethics, standards and transparency should be welcomed.

Elsewhere this week, we have a very insightful ‘View from the desk of...’ article on student recruitment in Africa that highlights the importance of understanding the motivations of African students in wanting to study abroad, rather than taking a steady increase from this growing market for granted.


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