The UK higher education sector’s commitment to the UK Agent Quality Framework and the National Code of Ethical Practice has been demonstrated at the BUILA winter conference.
A group of universities have signed a formal pledge to follow the UK AQF, a charter that has been designed to promote shared best practice in agent management including robust training and standardised processes.
The show of unity comes at a significant time for the sector as global enrolment swings are creating recruitment challenges for universities following a period of significant growth.
Sarah Chidgey, head of international education at the Department for Business and Trade, said, “The UK’s world-class higher education sector is a key driver for economic growth and we are delighted that the sector is united in promoting the highest standards of selection and management of recruitment partners overseas.”
There are 28 early signatories to the pledge including Durham University, Ulster University, University of East Anglia, University of Bangor and University of Edinburgh, representing the breadth of the British sector and devolved governments.
Shane Collins, director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Edinburgh echoed the importance of showing strength and unity in the sector.
“In signing up to the Agent Quality Framework and National Code of Ethical Practice UK universities demonstrate their commitment to working together to ensure a positive and proactive approach in supporting and managing informed relationships with international agents,” he said.
“Agents play a key role in advising and informing applicants who wish to study in the UK,” Collins continued.
“We take our collective responsibility to ensure accurate information, advice and guidance is available to all applicants and enquirers very seriously – this is an important step in both developing and communicating this commitment.”
After a period of consultation, BUILA formulated a multi-stakeholder framework, designed to foster a culture of proactive self-regulation, knowledge-sharing and best practice to protect service standards for students wanting to study in the UK.
Rolled out across the sector in 2023, it represents a collaborative community of institutional, agent and government stakeholders with a shared commitment to a standard charter.
In addition to the pledge, the formulation of a new Agent Advisory Committee and Institutional Steering Group will mark the next phase of evolution for the framework and its adoption across the sector.
BUILA also commissioned a detailed research project into the national codes of practice for education agents used by other countries to ensure the UK approach remains relevant and effective.
Clear liaison with The Home Office, Department for Education and Department for Business and Trade led through BUILA and Universities UK international will link UK policy to the AQF.
The British Council’s investment in the UK’s training programme for agents, a key component of the framework, has successfully certified over 3,000 UK recruiters from more than 90 countries worldwide in less than a year.
The British Council team are now proactively targeting gaps in training for large recruiters for the UK to ensure key stakeholders have all completed the standardised certification.
By signing the pledge, UK universities are agreeing to take proactive steps to create and maintain the highest standards of agent management.
“Recent coverage surrounding agents has been somewhat negative”
These include steps such as clear signposting of certified agents for student use, a formal complaints process and building the requirement for certified training and adherence to the National Code of Ethical Practice into legal contracts.
Catriona McCarthy, co-chair for BUILA outlined the strength of the AQF, saying, “Recent coverage surrounding agents has been somewhat negative and could be better balanced with a clearer understanding of the role agents play in international student recruitment and the proactive work that has been undertaken in the sector to ensure the right controls are in place.
“The AQF is a collaborative, sector wide initiative, delivering the tools that both students, agents and universities need to ensure that the standards associated with UK higher education are maintained and protected.
“An important next step is to now open mechanisms through which those who fail to meet the required standards can be reported and known within the sector and government.”
Is your institution committed to signing the Universities’ Pledge and following the Agent Quality Framework? Have your approved agents completed The British Council training and are they certified? Comment below or email [email protected]
To find out about the courses we have on offer: Click Here
Join the Course: Click Here