Education agents in India are concerned about the spread of unethical practices among university recruitment teams working in the country, including alleged incidents of bribery, favouritism and conflicts of interest.
Multiple agents told The PIE that they were aware of UK university regional recruitment managers asking for cash payments or a share of the agent’s commission in return for preferential treatment, including speeding up university offers.
“Those who pay [regional managers] will get their students passed,” said one Indian agent, speaking anonymously. “Deserving candidates are definitely going to fail. Agent partners have no option but to bow and beg for offer letters.”
In some cases, the individuals allegedly involved are not direct employees of the university, but agents holding exclusive partnerships with universities, who other agents must apply through, or companies that universities have outsourced elements of the recruitment process to, such as agent management and pre-CAS interviews.
Although international recruitment teams and third-party organisations are separate from admission departments and can’t make offers themselves, they can influence decision-making, in part by deciding which agencies the institution will work with.
Facing a large volume of applicants, institutions also often have ‘priority lists’ that will be reviewed more quickly. In some cases, recruitment managers can fast-track students onto these lists and suggest specific applicants who they believe should be accepted.
“As institution capacity is limited, the delegate staff get empowered and can play a role in who gets offers and who not,” said a second agent.
“I have observed institutions in the UK as well as Canada appointing some master agents or exclusive agents and feel that there is an element of corruption there,” they added.
“In the case of Canada, we have often experienced an application from us that has not been offered admission to a program and that the same student gets an identical course offer through another agency.”
“It’s basically the manager building his own business”
Some in-country recruitment managers representing both UK and Canadian institutions are also allegedly prioritising their family members who run agencies and redirecting students who plan to apply to the university directly to a close family member’s agent.
“There are cases here of in-country officers having a brother or a wife who is working alongside them as an approved agent and receiving commissions. It is in their interest to control the competition and which [applications] get processed first,” said a third source.
Gautham Kolluri, founder of CIP study abroad agency, said some agencies are set up by institutional representatives specifically for this purpose.
“It’s basically the manager building [their] own business,” he told The PIE. “[They have] put somebody – a friend or relative – there and [they’re] given an agreement so that they can recruit students. It’s not based on quality, it’s not based on performance.”
Agents said these practices had been spreading in recent years as thousands of international students scramble for limited university places. Between 2014 and 2021, the number of Indian students in the UK has more than tripled, creating a flooded market in which agents are forced to fight for the attention of overwhelmed universities.
“Deserving students are waiting for offer letters forever,” added the first agent. “Whereas those who are through regional managers’ priority agents are getting their offers in a flash.”
The PIE’s survey of 58 agents working in South Asia conducted in November 2022 found a wide disparity in the average time it takes to receive an offer among agents. In several cases, when asked to name the best and worst performing universities for admissions services, the same institutions appeared in both categories.
Some agents said they were unaware of university representatives asking for payments, but raised other issues about the way regional teams are recruited.
“They are often sourced from the pool for counsellors working with education agencies and it will be appropriate and desired if proper reference checks would be conducted especially if the agency is a partner agency of the university.”
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