The UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand have recently agreed to jointly endorse a Statement of Principles for the Ethical Recruitment of International Students by Education Agents and Consultants.(known as the London Statement) While in the US, the use of agents is currently subject to much debate, other leading host countries have long accepted agents as a fact of life, and have endeavoured to work with them, while recognising that standards of service do vary enormously. The British Council, for example, offers agent training to help build a cadre of agents who are well-informed about the UK and can give students the best possible advice about studying there.
In an ideal world, we might all wish to see some form of accreditation system which checked up on agents' competence to advise, ensured they were acting ethically and provided a complaints scheme for students who had been poorly advised. Providing any such scheme on a global basis would be a colossal undertaking, and it is therefore understandable that the London Statement is only a statement of principles, not a kitemarking scheme.
Nevertheless, it provides a useful indicator to students of what standards of service they should expect. It will remain vital for students to seek independent advice about the competence and impartiality of any agent they wish to use, not just to take at face value agents' claims abouting adhering to the principles.
Institutions too can help by encouraging adherence to the principles, ensuring they vet agents, and clearly publicise with which agents they have agreements.
So while "buyer beware" remains the motto, we welome the London statement for asserting international students' right to expect impartial and expert advise.