Last week, 52 Indian students were deported from Georgia due to a problem with their visas. These were first year medical students who had already paid Rs 5 lakh fees apart from Rs 1,25,000, which was the commission for the agent who had helped them with the admission process.

After returning to India, these students frantically tried to contact the agent, who was not taking calls, to sort out the whole mess. They were concerned that since it was April, they can’t sit for the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) exam back in India and the concerned embassy officials in Georgia had raised objections over their visas, thus, ruining their prospects.

The agent, on his part, assured the students that he can still help them with admission at another medical college in Armenia even as he’s trying for a refund from Georgia’s New Vision University.

Sandeep, a resident of Sikar in Rajasthan, who was also trying for admission in an MBBS course through the same agent, is not convinced with the assurance.

I have been trying for a visa since November last year. Earlier there was no need for IELTS and TOEFL for colleges in Georgia. The concerned agent missed the notification making these exams mandatory for those applying to universities in Georgia. I don’t think it would be wise to trust the agent and go to Armenia now. After all, it’s also about my family’s hard-earned money.

Role of Private Agencies in the Application Process
In a market dominated by the principle of supply and demand, private agencies which help students while applying to foreign universities have assumed the role of intermediaries that bridge the gap. Lack of regulations mean that these private agencies decide the terms and conditions and students have no option but to abide by them.

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However, their role extends much beyond being mere facilitators.

They (agents) ensure that the forms are sent in the correct format so that chances of being accepted increase, for which they charge a lump-sum that starts from Rs 25,000 and can go up to Rs 2.5 lakh, depending on the university one is applying to.

Few agencies like New Strides Consulting Pvt Ltd, which has branches in Delhi, Bengaluru, and Pune, offers counselling to students for free. The organisation has a contract with certain universities which reimburse the cost per candidate. New Strides specialises in helping students who have applied for post graduate courses in New Zealand, Ireland, and United Kingdom.

Out of 300 applications that we receive every year, most students are seeking options for Masters program. Ireland is the preferred destination these days as it offers two-year stay back option.

In a telephonic conversation, a counselor at Edwise International, which is counted among the reputed agencies, and helps students applying to as many as 16 countries, told us that there are no charges for colleges with which the company has a contractual understanding, and for others the package starts from Rs 26,000. This doesn’t include the application fee which would be borne by the student.

Fleecing Students in the Name of Admissions
In August last year, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed the Lok Sabha that there are 5,53,440 Indian students who are studying abroad.

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United States of America was the most preferred destination with around 2 lakh students, followed by Canada with 1 lakh, Australia with 63,283 students, New Zealand with 30,000 and the United Kingdom with 14,830.

Flourish logoA Flourish data visualisation
Anubhav Yadav, who hails from Sikandrabad tehsil in UP’s Bulandshahr, was allegedly kept in the dark by his agent about the exact date of joining a medical college in China.

Anubhav’s father, who is a farmer, says:

We had approached a Ghaziabad-based agent who first told us that date of reporting is October but my son Anubhav can join college by December. Then he said that Anubhav can join college only after clearing an exam conducted by the Medical Council of India. In January, my son was told that he has to board a flight from Chennai; he stayed in Chennai for a month only to return empty-handed.

The cost borne by students vary with courses. Rates are considerably high for professional courses such as medicine, engineering, etc. While the rate is almost fixed at around Rs 20,000 in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, in many Tier 3 cities agents dupe ignorant parents in the name of completing formalities related to documentation.

There are many agents, for example, in Punjab who charge $1,000 in the name of getting notarised (verified) document, thus, making Rs 50,000 in the process. Ideally, it should cost Rs 200.

Can Regulation Help?
Experts feel that regulation can certainly help in fixing rates thus ensuring transparency in the application process.

In some cases, these agents work with unaccredited universities and hence end up sending students to such institutes, which in turn ruins a student’s career. Keeping this in mind, it might be a good idea to bring in a regulatory framework for agents.
Dr Karan Gupta, Mumbai-based educationist Gupta also emphasises the difference between agents and consultants, the latter being genuine professionals who can be trusted by parents:

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Parents and students should know the difference between agents and consultants. Independent consultants charge fees but don’t work with specific universities and hence offer unbiased advice. Agents, on the other hand, represent specific universities and get commission from them. Parents as well as students should carefully evaluate their options, do their homework and then make an informed decision.

Just like lakhs of coaching institutes which operate without any fear of law even as students, who are under pressure, continue to commit suicide, private agencies that aid Class 12 pass outs in the application process seem to have a fiefdom of their own.

Since education, including technical education and medical education are included in the concurrent list of the Constitution, the Centre as well as state governments would have to intervene to set the house in order.

For instance, in August 2017, the HRD ministry issued directions to state governments to formulate rules that govern private coaching institutes. This was done ‘in the interest of students and their overall development’. Recent example of students being deported from Georgia calls for action by the concerned authorities both at the Centre as well as respective states which can go a long way in ensuring that students are not deported from foreign shores due to human error on part of a domestic agent.#KhabarLive