With the amount of money New Zealand makes from international students, it’s easy to see how the industry has succumbed to fraud and corruption. In fact, international students are New Zealand’s fifth largest export market. Currently it’s worth almost $3 billion, and it’s increasing. In 2015, tuition fees only from international students broke $1 billion.
When we think of international students, we usually think of students from China. However, the number of students from India are rapidly growing. As a result, there are more Indian students in the non-university tertiary sector than in any other sector. In 2015 there were over 29,000 Indian students enrolled. This was a 150% increase over the last five years.
Of course, the increase in students means an increase of money our economy. Steven Joyce, previous Tertiary Education Minister, says the benefits are wider than the economic benefits to the country. He said “Young New Zealanders live and learn alongside people from other countries, increasing their understanding of other cultures and boosting our links with the world. These links are vital for us to prosper in an increasingly Asia-Pacific world.”
Unfortunately, despite the benefits the benefits to New Zealand, there are an increasing number of stories of the bad side of the international student market emerging. Immigration fraud, fraudulent immigration agents, cheating and issues with education providers.
To find out more about this corruption, we need to look deeper into what happens before students arrive in New Zealand.
Why New Zealand?
I’ve written before about how New Zealand reportedly isn’t always the first choice for immigrants. Similarly, New Zealand isn’t the first choice for most Indian students. However, due to a change in the New Zealand Qualification Authority’s rules on international students, more and more Indian students have flooded into New Zealand.
The rule change, which happened in 2013, changed the English Language requirements for international students. It allowed some Private Training Establishments (PTEs) to enrol students without proving they could speak English through a standardised test. Rather, they were able to use their own test criteria to determine whether someone is English speaking.
Between 2013 and 2014, after the rule change, the number of Indian students increased from 12,000 to 20,000.
Navneet Singh is the co-founder of an education consultancy firm, GoGlobal. He says he sends ‘hundreds’ of Indian students to New Zealand each year and that while the policy change wasn’t intended to be bad for New Zealand, it had resulted in negative impacts.
“Before anybody could understand what happened, it went haywire.
“The primary responsibility [for English testing] was given to the PTEs…and who made the biggest money? The PTEs.”
The number of Indian students seeking to travel to New Zealand has continued to increase, flooding an already saturated market. Immigration New Zealand received an 11 percent increase in the number of student visa application between January and October 2015 than for all of 2014. Most of these applications were declined.
NZQA reported to Joyce that education agents in India actively promoted New Zealand as an education destination because of its ease of entry. The report noted that some of these agents had the authority to enrol students on behalf of a PTE. “These providers appear to have no visibility or control…Some of this ‘outsourcing’ is of poor quality.” the Report, which was released under the Official Information Act, said.
Munish Shekhri is a licensed immigration advisor. He saw what was happening in India first-hand. “I personally was approached by many PTEs who said ‘hey look, we’ll give you the login details for our English testing portal so you or your staff can sit [the test] on behalf of the students and we’ll offer an admission letter instantly.”
While this has increased the number of Indian students who can come to New Zealand, the picture is not rosy for them either. In part because of limited English skills, some Indian students are suffering from exploitation in the workforce in New Zealand. Some students are reportedly getting jobs paying only $4 an hour.
NZQA realised the damage which was being done both to New Zealand and the international student themselves and in late 2015 revised the rules. The revisions meant education providers weren’t able to use their own English ability assessments for international students, however undoing the damage is easier said than done.
Lack of regulation
Most Indian students coming to New Zealand are from North India. The trips are organised via education agents whose advertisements line the streets, promising visas, ‘instant approval’ and tantalising thoughts of residency.
These agents are barely regulated, and there is nothing to prevent what agents can promise to prospective students. As a result, the number of agents charging high fees, providing false documentation and misinformation to students is a quickly growing problem.
Alistair McClymont, an immigration lawyer, talks about how agents are not talking about the benefits of studying in New Zealand, but rather a promise for a job and residency after they finish their study.
“If you look at any of the marketing that the agents do in India, it’s not about the quality of the qualification; it’s about the benefits that a student will get if they complete a New Zealand qualification. And that’s not in terms of the skills they get…it’s about what Immigration NZ will offer them after they graduate.” He says.
As with all parts of the student immigration process, money is involved. Agents earn commission when they send students to education providers. The amount of commission varies from 10% by Universities, to 30% for Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology. Some reports even suggest up to 50% commission is being offered to agents when they send students to PTEs. This makes them a more appealing place for agents to refer students to, despite the low quality of education PTEs offer.
In fact, over 21,000 of the 29,000 students from India who moved to New Zealand in 2015 were enrolled in PTEs. The commission for agents means they’ll do almost anything to encourage students to sign up. “There are ads in newspapers which say ‘go through us, we’ll give you free air ticket, we’ll give you a laptop.’ When such lucrative ads are there, you can understand what is happening.” Singh from GoGlobal says.
Regulation of agents isn’t an easy task. There are about 33 licensed immigration advisors in India. However, Shekhri, a licensed immigration advisor, said there are thousands of unlicensed agents working to refer students to agencies and earning commission from New Zealand companies.
It was recently reported by the New Zealand Herald that 85% of the over 10,000 declined applications received from Indian students in 10 months of 2015 were lodged by unlicensed education advisors, agents and lawyers who are exempt from licensing.
Despite these alarming reports, Shekhri doesn’t think all of the blame should be placed on agents or education providers, but that students need to take responsibility for their choices too. “The big onus is on the student…they have to understand they cannot come to New Zealand and corrupt the country.”
The Low-Cost Model
The Royal Business College based in Te Puke, New Zealand’s Kiwifruit campus is an excellent example of the attractive prospect being offered to Indian students wanting to come to New Zealand.
The Royal Business College in Te Puke offers an attractive alternative to other locations in New Zealand. One student said he moved to Te Puke after the Royal Business College offered the opportunity to do his second year for only $7,000. He paid $12,000 for his first year doing a business course in Wellington. Te Puke is also cheaper to for students to find a place to live than Wellington. With so many kiwifruit orchards in Te Puke, finding a job in an orchard is not too difficult either.
The actual campus itself is based on an industrial block, and the building itself appears rundown, with a few broken couches outside a narrow doorway. The campus appears abandoned until lunchtime when primarily Indian students stream from the door. The Royal Business College’s website says the Te Puke campus ‘provides the ideal learning environment for our Diploma courses in Horticulture’, although only business courses are offered on this campus.
While there are more than 500 PTEs in New Zealand, only 250 are licenced to enrol international students, and most of those are located in Central Auckland. It’s easy to believe that one-third of the 63,600 international students enrolled in PTEs are from India if you glance around the right streets in Auckland on weekday lunchtimes.
PTEs offer a lower cost alternative to Universities, which charge approximately three times more for international students than domestic students.
The lower comes at a different price though. Singh says many of New Zealand’s PTEs that do take international students aren’t worth the money as they offer a substandard education. “There are specialist PTEs whose infrastructure and standards are as good as universities…but when we talk about generic PTEs, I’ll say 80 percent are not worth what an international student is paying.”
Not only are many of these international students not netting a good education; information released under the Official Information Act shows about 50 PTEs have a visa decline rate of over 30 percent, despite what many of the students were promised in their home countries.
Corruption extends to PTEs
We mentioned earlier the corruption and fraudulent information being provided by agents. Unfortunately, some PTEs themselves are also after any money they can make from students. An insider shared information with The Wireless, alleging some courses are taught in Punjabi rather than English, students have no class attendance requirements, or worse; some PTEs deliberately fail students so they can be charged “resit fees”. “Sometimes these fees are sanctioned by the provider, and sometimes they are simply a way for the tutor to make a bit of extra money.”
McClymont, immigration lawyer, says tutors, as well as students are unhappy with some of the aspects of PTEs. “They say there’s no focus on education whatsoever in some of these schools. They report to me many situations where the student will complain their teacher is requiring them to attend classes.
“They will say their agent, in whatever country they came from, guaranteed that they wouldn’t really need to study that hard and wouldn’t need to attend classes and pass exams.”
The insider also alleged that some PTEs had multiple visits from ‘the authorities’ in the last few years, many relating to overcrowding following the rule change in 2013. The change flooded the market, leading to overcrowding in some PTEs.
“Nothing was done until it was pointed out to the providers that actually, it’s not OK to have 45 students in a class that seats 20, with no AC in the middle of summer.” the insider said.
In 2015 NZQA investigated allegations against IANZ, a PTE. Complaints were made against IANZ by two employees. The employees say IANZ instructed them to prepare fake English language test results for hundreds of students.
Paul Chalmers, spokesperson for Auckland International Education Group and founder of PTE Newton College, says NZQA’s current system does not work well enough. ““We have been consistently undermined by the practices of a number of small providers that are working with agents to allow students leeway that they should not be allowed.” Despite this, he says most of the providers are doing a good job, regardless of the small number of PTEs who are not. He says NZQA’s evaluation of PTEs should be more robust to deal with those PTEs who are letting down the rest.
The New Zealand Government set the goal in late 2015 of increasing the international student market sector from its current $3 billion to $5 billion via its Pathway Student Visa. This demands a significant amount of work, primarily to stop further damage to our reputation as an easy option for international students.
Geoff Scott is the assistant general manager at Immigration New Zealand. His concern is about more than just New Zealand. “In some instances, the whole family [in India] is indebted to such an extent they cannot repay their debt. The students that are here are trying to work exceptionally long hours, being exploited at particularly low wages to try and repay the debt.”
Scott points out that the exploitation and high fees being charged to international students who are let down by fraudulent agents can have profound effects on families, leading to tragic circumstances, including suicide in some situations.
Edwin Paul, India Trade Alliance Education spokesperson, said. “It is a perfect time to clean the market. We talk about educational fraudulent documents but there is fraud that extends beyond that as well.” Paul says keeping New Zealand as an ‘attractive study destination’ is important, even if it means losing students and the money the bring in the short term.
“I’d say 25 to 30 percent [decrease] straight off. This is what we need to be prepared for. It’s worth losing that much when you compare it to the reputational risk. It is good to do this now because it will be many fold later if we don’t fix this now. The impact is significant but it is a manageable impact.”
Singh agrees, saying the Government needs to take steps to prevent exploitation of the industry. “There are a lot of loopholes in which you can play around with the system which people do.The system only works when the government is a little bit stronger on it. Until then we cannot control people’s greed. It’s a business with a lot of opportunity.”