Reflections on a Dirty Industry

No, not that industry, which is literally dirty and a major contributor to global climate change. I’m referring to international student recruitment, which is often a figuratively dirty industry.

A US higher education colleague who has been around the block a few times recently asked me this question: “At the risk of sounding like a newbie, I do wonder what it is about this field that seems to attract so much underhanded behavior and ‘characters’. Maybe because ‘selling’ overseas education is all about constructing a narrative that, if at odds with reality, isn’t really a huge risk to the perpetrators.”

The answer to his question is something I’ve thought and written a lot about so his question was right up my alley. It behooves all of us who don’t condone “underhanded behavior” to reflect on these issues and think of ways in which we can “clean up” the profession.

Here’s my response.

“False advertising, ‘constructing a narrative’ that is “at odds with reality” is a way to make money in the short term but will backfire in the medium- to long term. To put it bluntly, you end up pissing off your (student) clients and partners because they realize that you sold them a bill of goods. 

This field attracts so many lowlifes because it’s a (potentially) high-profit, low-overhead industry with – here’s the key point – very little oversight and regulation. Companies that cut ethical and even legal corners can make more money than those that don’t in the short term. “Succe$$ without integrity is failure.”

For example, Capstone Education (Recruit in Viet Nam), a full-service educational consulting company of which I’m managing director and co-founder, could easily increase its revenue by working with nationally accredited US higher education institutions, double-dipping, i.e., taking commissions and fees, and taking a percentage of students’ scholarships, a common practice in the industry that amounts to triple-dipping.

Instead, we work exclusively with regionally accredited colleges and universities, in the case of the US, the gold standard of institutional accreditation in that country, look for best-fit schools for each and every student, who is always the primary client in the advising process, and believe that students earn merit-based scholarships, not the consultants or education agents that assist them.

Image courtesy of Bounding Into Comics

As I mention in a forthcoming article about the limits of agent certification, the Wild West is alive and well in the multibillion-dollar international student recruitment industry. There are those who will say and do anything to get ahead, usually defined as making as much money as quickly as possible. These operators profit from the fact that there is little to no substantive regulation or oversight in most countries. Think of it as laissez-faire business off the rails.

Man Delousing a Chicken (Wisconsin Historical Society)

They are the lowlifes and the characters, the sharks and the snakes, the pit bulls and the bullies, the ones you want to avoid and whose filthy feet you want to hold to the cleansing fires of transparency and fairness at every opportunity. If you can’t avoid meeting them, for whatever reason, you might want to take a shower and maybe even delouse after you do.

A question to those reading this who happen to work in the industry: Which one are you? Or, since the world is rarely binary, are you a bit of both?

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s