Are dodgy agents behind Australia’s international student corruption?

In February, the Joint Parliamentary Inquiry into efficacy of current regulation of Australian migration and education agents released its report, which claimed education and migrant agents were behind three quarters of all international student enrolments in Australian tertiary institutions, and documented allegations of unlawful and unethical behaviour by agents and education providers.

The report claimed that international students were being misled about migration pathways and work rights, as well as being pushed into inappropriate courses that pay higher commissions. It also noted that “education agents are not currently regulated in Australia” and that “literally anyone can become an education agent”.

Last month, The Australian reported that dodgy education agents were exploiting international students, while also receiving financial kickbacks from tertiary institutions:

Manesh’s problems with his education agent began from the outset, when the agent pushed him to study nursing at a particular college and didn’t give him any other options. The agent also took about $500 from him for administration and only later did Manesh learn that agents are paid commissions by the colleges where they place students…

Despite promises from the education agent, he learned his course was not accredited by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery ­Accreditation Council, meaning he would be unable to gain work experience and help pay for his ­tuition by working in Australia…

“Everyone lied to us. First of all, the education agent lied to us. Then, after that, the college also lied to us. The college said that we will be getting to work in hospitals”…

Since I began regular coverage on the international student scam, I have been inundated with correspondence from insiders blowing the whistle on the rorting, confirming allegations presented in this month’s Four Corners expose.

One of the key themes is the way in which some (many?) international students are manipulating the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to gain entry to Australia’s universities.

The Department of Home Affairs requires a minimum IELTS score of 5.5 to study in Australia. But the need for English can be waived if the student has an undergraduate degree from an institute in which English is listed as a (perhaps one of many) mode of delivery/instruction.

Moreover, after performing some brief Facebook searches, I have come across multiple advertisements by education agents spruiking how they can assist prospective students to manipulate the IELTS test. Below is the most egregious example that I have found:

I have also come across agents advising on how to fill in forms to avoid scrutiny by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs:

If these were isolated examples, it wouldn’t be a major issue.

However, as reported in the Four Corners expose, some universities have been admitting international students who are below the university’s own published English standards, or who are granted entry through other means without taking an independent English test. Some have also been accepting “medium of instruction” (MOI) letters for postgraduate students from India and Nepal, which state that students previously studied in English.

None of this is new, of course. A 2015 ICAC investigation entitled “Managing corruption risks associated with international students” found that:

Competitive forces have pushed the level of English-language proficiency that some universities in NSW demand below what is considered necessary to complete some courses.  In the search for international students, some universities in NSW are entering markets where document fraud and cheating on English-language proficiency tests are known to exist. They are using large numbers of local intermediaries – sometimes more than 200 agents – to market to and recruit students, resulting in due diligence and control challenges…

False entry qualifications, cheating on English-language proficiency tests, essay mills selling assignments, plagiarism, cheating in university exams and paying others to sit exams are reportedly common.

The pressures within universities are also conductive to corruption.

With seemingly systemic corruption within Australia’s universities, it’s time for a Royal Commission into the sector.

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Unconventional Economist


  1. Why waste money on another Royal Commission?
    Despite the tough talk when the recommendations are tabled they will be white anted by the government at the behest of powerful lobby groups.
    It will just be a repeat of what’s happening to the recommendations of the Banking RC.

    • Just as expected.

      It is virtually impossible to draw a line in the sand one day and say “We feel like today is a good day to quit the Ponzi scheme”, because the participants are already captured by the bubble. Just like a giant bottomless quick-sandpit that is growling bigger and bigger, those caught by it will grab anything within reach. As they say, a drowning bank, I mean man, will clutch at a straw….. eventually the bottomless pit will become so large that it will engulf the whole continent. And that is Straya’s destiny.

      The only way to escape this fate, without relying on an external force that destroys the bubble without mercy, was to prevent a bubble from forming in the first place. In Straya’s case the last chance to escape unscathed was around 2003 (Strayan houses became overvalued around 2000 but still were not in the bubble territory till circa 2003). The GFC was a godsend that could have destroyed the bubble, but Rudd blew it, and the rest is history.

      • proofreadersMEMBER

        Yep. Strayans don’t do reality, so it’s whatever it takes to keep a ponzi going.

    • Not really buddy, the choice was between the status quo (liberal) and full blown ponzi acceleration with labour as they swing the gates wide open, throw caution to the wind and let any decrepit soul in the world in for free centerlink and medicare

  2. In many middle to large size cities in Asia there are literally streets filled with education agents that advertise Australian, New Zealand, US, Canadian and UK student visas. For some reason I have never worked out you find them in clusters. I’d estimate that there are many thousand in SE Asia alone. These interact with thousands of teaching institutions that offer English language training.

    Some are legit – others not. However a new trend over the last decade has been the same agent opening a business in Australia and a foreign country. These companies often process visas in a coordinated way with dodgy agents that have started Australian companies. Taken together this is clearly a massive industry globally.

    More recently another sort of thing has become visible online (see link). You can order your essay whether it is for school or university no questions asked. The link is really worth taking a look and seeing that there is a live chat and order form with prices up front:

    Now, this is the tip of the iceberg. For decades essay writing for a fee has been an accepted part of some Asian cultures. You can have your thesis written for you even. Often it has been a casual agreement in the past, but now ‘essay writing’ schools are popping up all over the place. They are not advertised in English on the net and usually don’t need to.

    It’s worth keeping something in mind. Years back this was a path out of poverty and ‘helping’ someone do this by a little bit of cheating was acceptable to many given the magnitude of improvement to their life it could produce. The problem is, poverty is far less of a motivation now and this has simply become cultural.

    However, the abuse of education visas is a two way street. Many western tourists and long stay vacationers enrol in education courses in Asia, pay a fee and obtain a year long (or perhaps 2-3 year) visa. Plenty of Aussies do this in several countries. The immigration department knows about it, the schools depend on it and vast sums change hands for bogus education – linked to obtaining a visa. Kick backs flow all the way into government departments where blind eyes are a permanent condition.

    What’s happened in Australia is that the same sort of corruption has occurred to our visa and education system. Deregulation and privatisation are simply codes for permitting corruption to go unchecked. Our government has encouraged it – both LNP and ALP.

    We let our standards slip by falling for the ‘privatisation’ and ‘self regulation’ bull. As a consequence we joined a vast and global industry in cheating, scamming and blind eye turning that is worth billions. As soon as we allowed education visa applications to be processed by private agents with a profit motive we became part of an organised network that requires a chain of people to engage in petty administrative crime.

    The best thing for all the people skimming, lying, bribing, cheating and turning a blind eye is that no one will ever go to jail. When everyone is on the take the ‘tragedy of the commons’ ensures that bad behaviour is rewarded and the true crooks (our politicians of the ALP and LNP) get a large pension and an AO.

    • Stewie Griffin

      When society shifts away from the rights of society to perpetuate itself, to the rights of the individual to be free to make money, this is the result.

      Culturally, we are now everything and nothing. Who is to say making money from from our accumulated social capital is wrong? This is who we are now.

      • TailorTrashMEMBER

        So finally Keating should be happy , he is seeing his dream in his lifetime …Straya has finally become “ part of Asia “ ….complete with its endemic corruption

      • If International Students are the sheep, then the agents are the sheep herding dogs while the Farmer (Government/Authorities) are happy to turn a blind eye and try and reap the economic benefits down the track.

    • Based on my observation, I would say that majority of overseas education agents are dodgy, especially the ones from China, India / Nepal / Bangladesh etc. They would do anything to ensure their clients get the study offer and student visa so that they would get the commission kick-backs from the Australian institutions. That ranges from falsifying academic records (false high-school diplomas / grade transcript) to submitting fake financial information on behalf of the candidate students (e.g. fake bank statements, fake assets held information). I remember a few years ago, there was a big scandal in India / Nepal where many candidate students used fake bank information to show that their family could provide financial support for their study in Australia as part of the student visa application requirements. The Australian’s high commission in charge of immigration for the region issued circulating letter to reject any student visa application that use documents from certain letterhead of some dodgy banks in India / Nepal after so many fake ones got found-out. In other case, a prominent agent from India actually took money from candidate students that were supposed to be paid for tuition fees in Australian institutions but instead they ran-away with the money leaving the student candidates poorer and with no study offer / fee.

      The main reason this dodgy business exists is to ensure the higher education institutions to get overseas students without having to invest in proper recruitment resources on the ground (like in India, China, Vietnam, etc), at least not significantly and to avoid bad publicity if there’s scandal / dodgy stuff happened. Sort of like the role of employment recruitment agents where hiring companies don’t want to deal with risks related to discrimination, etc. If Australia does not even want to regulate real-estate agents properly like having proper education and included in money laundering legislation coverage, what’s the chance that these overseas education agents get regulated ?

      • If a would-be student needs an agent for enrollment that is already a bad sign. The student either lacks sufficient English proficiency or intelligence.

      • Spot on. If you visit the firewalled and bombproof Australian’s high commission in these nations and look through the foot thick bullet proof glass it is the lack of staff that strikes you. The places are empty. Try and get complex information from the consulate and you can tell that staff are thin on the ground.

        The neoliberal game plan has done exactly what was done with mortgage brokers – private operators are used so that the bad behaviour and corrupt money that flows into the cash cow cannot be blamed on the institution and board of directors – or regulators in this case. Instead, they can blame “one or two bad apples” for all of time whilst knowing that systemic corruption is part of the system they have created and that it is so large and so diffuse that there is no way anyone can quantify it.

        They have ‘incentivised’ people and “taken the burden from the taxpayer” – but inflicted a far greater social burden in the process that socialises the consequences.

        When politicians seek the “efficiency” of private industry in such outcomes, where do they draw the line between the efficiency of the Mafia and the effectiveness of public institutions in protecting social values and public institutions that comes with a cost? Answer: they don’t. Policy is driven by money and they deal with the people at the top of the pyramid who glean the takings. These are the lobbyists who donate to either side of politics. They are the ‘respectable’ face of corruption and live in nice suburbs, go to church, send their kids to nice schools and talk about morality. In reality, they own a sweatshop of petty thieves who do their bidding and pay them their cut. This is a pyramid scheme of corruption that Paul Keating referred to as “the service industry”.

    • Australians in SE Asia on education visas, aren’t looking at a backdoor entry for permanent residency. Australians in SE Asia ‘studying’ aren’t sending back remittances to pay for courses. At least the money paid for these ‘courses’ are staying in SE Asia, unlike in Australia, where they come and work, and send money back home.

      • Generally correct, although some will set up businesses contrary to their visa conditions. Digital nomads are tolerated as they are typically a good class of tourist. However the long term sex tourist, alcoholic, high functioning addict and pedophile also use such loopholes. The reason I mentioned it was to ensure that we are balanced in discussing visa rorts.

        Overall, the net economic benefits are positive as most people bring money into the economy in Asia without taking services from locals or running down state institutions (universities) and the scumbags are few (but do a lot of damage).

        In Australia it is different. It is the same corruption with a much higher return for those in the food chain and with a cost picked up by the taxpayer and domestic student and is a pox on our public education system.

    • Yup. Whenever Govt concocts a ‘scheme’ you can bet your bottom dollar it’s so poorly thought out and executed that it is no wonder that hordes of parasites arrive on the scene to make mint out of it — the long suffering strayan taxpayer ultimately bearing the cost.

      Until bureaucrats and pollies have ‘skin in the game’ they will continue to make sh!t decisions and we, the citizens-at-large, will continue to bear the consequences.

    • 20XX

      There was only one catch in Straya’s new Higher Education Act, and that was Catch-24, which specified in fine prints that a concern for the value of one’s Strayan uni degree that came with hefty non-redeemable upfront fees was the proof of one’s intelligence that automatically enlisted one to a Strayan uni……. bigpadarico was stupid and could be exempted from enrolling in a Strayan uni. All he had to do was formally *ask* to be assessed on his IQ; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be deemed stupid and would have to enroll in a Strayan uni (and become liable for the hefty fees). bigpadarico would be stupid to enroll in a Strayan uni and wise if he didn’t, but if he were wise he had to enroll in a Strayan uni. If he enrolled in a Strayan uni then he was stupid and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to he was deemed wise and had to…..

      …… will you be able to survive Straya?

  3. TailorTrashMEMBER

    …..but but but ….it’s one of our biggest EXPORTS ……….Garn Straya !!………….and what was all that big stink a few years ago when we slipped a few middle men a little dosh to grease the path for a real Aussie inovative export …..polymer currency ?

    • Cameron Murray of SAP needs to deflate the myth of the Great International Student Export.

  4. Speaking of rorts and slightly off topic can anyone explain why HR recruiters here in Australia seem to be ALL staffed with people with UK or Irish accents? What is so skilled about being a HR recruiter?
    Much the same as your local car wash, 7-11 or any other petrol station – staffed by people from the subcontinent – India or Pakistan.
    The tier one EPC (doing major Sydney tunnel projects)) I work for sources all of its IT workers from India on a visa, they work in at the North Sydney head office.
    Migration agents who are either Indian or Chinese
    I’m now starting to this same trend develop in the construction sector (taxpayer funded projects) on projects that CPB, Lend Lease, Laing O’Rourke managers – for white collar professional engineering jobs preference is given to those who have worked for a UK or Middle Eastern contractors.
    Case example, white collar role, NSW government infrastructure project, suits working holiday visa, and seemingly favours those who have been employed by UK or Middle Eastern contractors

    • I noticed the trend also. My 2c opinion is that in every industry and profession there’s a standard / market salary expectation with the attached candidate attributes expectation. HR agents do not earn much, at least from salary, but more from incentives when they do lots of deals so basically the job only for migrants but the job requires “good English communication” and “mainstream Australian looks / presentation” and thus, the best candidates will be new migrants from UK / Ireland. Their funny English accent is even considered their selling points because they sound sexier and more exotic. The petrol stations also pay peanuts, don’t need any presentation / look requirement, but you need to at least speak some English (however funny accent it will be), thus you get best candidates from the new migrants of subcontinent origin. In any human endeavour, you will rarely go wrong if you follow the money since incentives work, especially financial ones.

    • Stewie Griffin

      My mate was in recruitment, but left the industry due to this sort of corruption.

      He and clients would spend a small fortune to bring some Level 5 IT worker out here from France who speaks perfect English and would be critical in terms of value add for project deployment and repeatedly have the applications knocked back.

      But if the Company wanted to bring in level 2 or 3 IT programmers from India, Pakistan or Nepal, who can barely code let alone speak English, to throw at the problem, then the Indian recruitment agency would fire them at you at faster rate than a Gatling gun.

      Any RC into our into our visa approval system needs to investigate and fire every Indian individual with unexplained wealth or lifestyle attributes.

    • It should not be on the skilled list. It is a sales and process job (sales to get jobs to fill, process and communiation skills to fill the jobs). If you have a sales and process orientation, present well, can listen, and speak well-enough, then you can do agency recruitment. We should be able to fill these jobs with locals.

    • “Speaking of rorts and slightly off topic can anyone explain why HR recruiters here in Australia seem to be ALL staffed with people with UK or Irish accents? What is so skilled about being a HR recruiter?”

      Because people from the UK and Ireland have the appropriate English skills and are excellent and talking loads and loads of sh*t. Its part of their culture.

  5. John Howards Bowling Coach

    I have inside access to the Immigration Agent industry and the answer is YES. Dodgy agents are responsible BUT the reality is somewhat like the Mortgage Brokers putting lies into the mortgage applications that benefit the Bank, Buyer, and Seller. They are all benefiting so the government and the eduction provider (often fake colleges run by migrants themselves) are never going to blow the whistle.