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Four countries that are among the top destinations (besides the United States) for foreign students have issued a joint ethics code for agents used in recruitment efforts. The statement -- endorsed by education officials in Australia, Britain, Ireland and New Zealand -- backs the use of agents. The United States did not join in the statement.

The "London Statement," as the document is being called, is the result of two years of talks (some of which included American officials). It was finalized recently in London and released by the British Council, which promotes international education on behalf of Britain and its universities. The statement calls for honesty and transparency in business dealings by agents. The statement's seven principles do not question the use of commission-based pay, which is common and not that controversial in the countries that signed the declaration, but which is controversial (even as the practice grows) in the United States.

While the British Council's news release on the joint statement acknowledges that "a small number of agents and consultants have been accused of unethical or even illegal conduct," it goes on to say that the aim of the statement was "not about getting tough with bad agents but about promoting and encouraging the very good practices that many already follow."

The London Statement contains seven principles:

  • Agents and consultants practice responsible business ethics.
  • Agents and consultants provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner.
  • Agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements.
  • Agents and consultants protect the interests of minors.
  • Agents and consultants provide current and up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ.
  • Agents and consultants act professionally.
  • Agents and consultants work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice.
The four countries that signed on to the ethics code now plan to take it to companies that employ agents in countries where international students are recruited -- especially those in China and India -- to ask them to sign the code as well.
The principles' themes about transparency and professionalism are consistent with other ethical codes with regard to student recruiting. American critics of agents are likely to note that the principles do not address the issues raised by commission-based pay.
Federal law in the United States bars the use of commission-based pay for recruiting American students. While there is no ban on the use of commission-based pay to recruit foreign students (and a growing number of American colleges retain agents who are paid in part on commission), many admissions leaders believe the practice is unethical because agents will have an incentive to recommend some colleges over others. Other admissions leaders, however, say that without agents, only a select few American colleges with worldwide name recognition can recruit abroad, and that ethics codes make it possible to recruit responsibly with agents.
National Association for College Admission Counseling is currently conducting a major review of the issue.

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