Ever more sophisticated fraud tactics put students and the reputation of their host countries at risk.
International students are streaming into Australia, with numbers up 11 per cent on last year. While Chinese students make up the largest proportion, the number of Indian students in Australia reached a seven-year high in 2018, driven largely by favourable graduate employment outcomes.
Nepal, Malaysia and Vietnam are also key markets, and we are seeing increasing numbers of students from Brazil and Colombia.
While increased access to world-class education is overwhelmingly positive, it is not without challenges. Students from developing nations can be targets of fraud because their communication skills and financial literacy may differ from that of domestic students.
Unethical – often unregistered – education agents can give students misleading advice about courses and providers, and they often fail to pass payments for tuition fees on to universities. In some instances, migration agents sell international students fraudulent paperwork with false information about their education and employment experience.
The impact of such scams is significant for students and their families. In a recent incident, Tu Futuro agency allegedly scammed more than A$500,000 (£284,000) from hundreds of Latin American students seeking or receiving university education in Australia.
Other reports concern a “virtual kidnapping” scheme aimed at Chinese international students, in which families were contacted and students allegedly threatened unless large ransoms were paid. In May last year, the Australian Federal Police warned that this scam had conned A$2 million from the families of Chinese and Taiwanese university students.
Education agents around the world play an integral part in bringing overseas students to Australia. In 2017, legitimate education agents were responsible for nearly three-quarters of international enrolments in Australia.
However, many illegitimate agents operate in overseas jurisdictions and are not bound by Australian regulations. Policing their conduct is a challenge for universities.
Universities have taken steps to curb unethical conduct from illegitimate agents by conducting background checks to verify students’ identities, academic qualifications, English-language proficiency and financial capacity. But technology must play a key role in detecting and preventing fraud.
Illegitimate discount scams or “payment plans” are also offered to international students through popular payment apps. Fees are supposedly paid on their behalf after they release funds to a third party. But on receipt of the confirmation of enrolment, the payment is reversed by the third party, in effect forcing the student to pay double.
Read more : Hayden Scown : Times Higher Education : 27 January 2019