Ethics Case Studies Manual-Australia

Ethics (ETH)


This Unit looks at the Ethics of the role of Education Counsellor. It will consider:

  • An Agent’s Reputation
  • Professional Standards
  • Ethical Behaviour

It will consider some case studies that illustrate issues around an agent’s professional practice.



A training course cannot force agents to behave correctly if they are determined not to do so. However, this lesson aims to:

  • show some of the damaging practices that sometimes occur;
  • describe what should be done;
  • consider how to avoid such problems in your work role.

Focus Questions

  1. What are the effects of agents behaving in dishonest and incompetent ways?
  2. What kinds of professional standards do agents need to meet?
  3. What kinds of unethical practices do agents need to avoid?

An Agent’s Reputation

Students and their parents or guardians spend a lot of time and money to make the best educational


  • have not travelled overseas before;
  • know little about Australia;
  • do not speak English well;
  • have limited information about the educational provider;
  • have only a general understanding of what living in Australia involves.

The large majority of agents that recruit students for educational institutions:

    • are hard-working;
    • are fair in their dealings with students and the institutions they represent;
    • develop very good reputations among their clients.

Unfortunately, some agents disadvantage their students by acting in an incompetent or dishonourable way. This has the potential to seriously damage the reputation of:

that they can. They need to trust the agent they use since many of them probably:

  • themselves and their agencies;
  • the institutions they represent;
  • the Australian education system.

Successful student recruitment is often the result of word-of-mouth recommendations or repeat business. So, even if only a few agents act with poor standards or ethics, the news can spread quickly and often bad elements are exaggerated.

Therefore, the improper actions of a small number of agencies can lead to serious consequences. Students may:

  • think the actions are more common than they actually are;
  • not trust other agencies even though they act correctly at all times;
  • choose to study in another country or decide not to study abroad at all.

Long-term success

Obviously, different agencies are usually in competition with one another. However, poor work practices may be profitable in the short-term for one particular agency, but they have the potential to eventually damage not only that agency but other reputable agencies as well.

In summary, an agent is responsible for developing a reputation for excellence to ensure sustainable long-term business. Also, maintaining high standards is essential for the continued viability of all agencies.

Professional Standards

Successful education agents demonstrate ‘professionalism’ and comply with professional standards. This means they are committed to their clients, deliver high and consistent levels of service, and have ethical practices.

Some important examples of proper standards are given below:

Dealing with students

Examples: Explanations:


Providing sufficient and accurate information to students

Students need to able to make an appropriate choice of course and/or institution.

Keeping adequate records

It is essential that agents keep clear and organised records regarding:

  • information provided to students;
  • biographical data;
  • copies of documents they have submitted as part of applications;
  • copies of correspondence with institutions about a particular application;
  • relevant student visa documentation.

Maintaining contact Agents should continue to maintain contact and help students with relevant after a course has begun issues as they arise.

Responding to questions Agents should answer questions from their students within a reasonable time in a timely manner period.

Dealing with institutions

Examples: Explanations:

Having clear cost structures

Students should be made aware of:

  • the costs involved in using an agent:
  • when and how this money should be paid;
  • what is not included within an agent’s services.


Submitting applications to institutions only from students who have a genuine intention to study

  • Sending applications to a range of institutions for an individual student can be what a student requests in order to find out the range of options they have. However, agents need to be aware that submitting an application to an institution that the student has no realistic chance or intention of attending creates unnecessary administrative work for both the institution and the agent.
  • Institutions expect their agents to filter applications and do not appreciate the considerable work generated to assess an individual for entry unnecessarily. In practice, many agencies limit students to applying to no more than 3 institutions at a time.
  • At times, students may seek to use multiple agencies to apply to as many institutions as possible.

Communicating appropriately with organisations

Agents should identify the appropriate individuals to contact in regard to:

  • student inquiries;
  • applications;
  • enrolments;
  • recruitment;
  • problems that arise.

Agents should consider whether email or other forms of communication are the most appropriate form for any particular situation. An email can provide a clear record of what is being communicated and it’s a very popular form of communication. But, in some circumstances it may be necessary to discuss an issue by telephone and then follow up with an email to confirm what has been understood.

Representing the institution and its courses accurately

Agents should have a clear understanding of the institutions they represent. This includes:

• having a reasonably detailed understanding of the local environment and facilities available to students;


  • understanding what a particular course of study involves;
  • knowing what employment can be expected following the successful completion of a course.

Advertising with approval

Agents should ensure that an institution has explicitly agreed to any advertising. This includes using the crest or symbol of an organisation to market an exhibition or publication.

At times, agents believe that having an agent agreement with an institution provides them with the right to use their materials and symbols at any time. However, institutions should always be informed of when their name and reputation is being used.

Dealing with other agents

Examples: Explanations:


Not discounting fees without an institution being aware

Some agents offer discounts on students’ tuition fees by paying a portion of the institution’s tuition fees themselves. In this manner they seek to encourage more students to their agency. The institution is normally unaware that this is occurring.

While as a business strategy this is not necessarily wrong or illegal, often agents who are not planning a long-term business strategy undertake this practice. They can be individuals without office premises (and the costs that go with this) who work alone. They calculate that if they can recruit enough students in this manner the commission they receive from the institution will cover the sum that they have discounted. Unfortunately, they commonly provide very little (if any) service once a student has been placed and are focused only on the recruitment of more individuals not on providing quality service.

Other, more established, long-term agencies lose business to these types of agents because they have larger business overheads and provide a comprehensive service. In the end, many of the students recruited by such short-term agents end up dealing with the more established agents when they need help once their studies have begun.

It is important for agents to realise that business practices that drive other agents out of business with unsustainable discounts are ultimately bad for all. They lower the reputation of agents as a whole and focus the agent community on recruitment alone rather than quality service.


Being ethical means that agents knowingly choose a correct action rather than an incorrect one.

In a commercial environment, there can be a temptation to ‘cut corners’ or to undertake an activity that the agent knows is ethically wrong but which gives a commercial advantage.

The London Statement

Standard 4.3.4 of the National Code 2018 states that education agents must
have have appropriate knowledge and understanding Australian International Education and Training Agent Code of Ethics. It is based on the London Statement, a 2012 landmark statement by

the UK, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand on a best practice approach to ethical recruitment by education agencies.

The Code of Ethics, can be found here.
The Ethical framework includes guidance on the following:

  • Integrity – being straightforward and honest in all professional and business dealings;
  • Objectivity – not allowing professional judgment to be compromised by bias or conflict of


  • Professional competence and due care – maintaining professional knowledge and professional service, and acting diligently;
  • Transparency – declaring conflicts of interest to all clients, especially when service fees are charged to both the education provider and the prospective student;
  • Confidentiality – respecting and preserving the confidentiality of personal information acquired and not releasing such information to third parties without proper authority;
  • Professional behavior – acting in accordance with relevant laws and regulations and dealing with clients competently, diligently and fairly; and
  • Professionalism and purpose – acting in a manner that will serve the interests of clients and the wider society even at the expense of self-interest; recognising that dedication to these principles is the means by which the profession can earn the trust and confidence of stakeholder groups (individual clients, the public, business and government).

The seven principles of the Code of Ethics are below.

  1. Agents and consultants practice responsible business ethics.
  2. Agents and consultants provide current, accurate and honest information in an ethical manner.
  3. Agents and consultants develop transparent business relationships with students and providers through the use of written agreements.
  4. Agents and consultants protect the interests of minors.
  5. Agents and consultants provide current and up-to-date information that enables international students to make informed choices when selecting which agent or consultant to employ.
  6. Agents and consultants act professionally.
  7. Agents and consultants work with destination countries and providers to raise ethical standards and best practice.

An ethical agent demonstrates this understanding in their work

Unethical Practice in Dealings with Students

Examples: Explanation

Charging ‘hidden’ fees

Some agents have charged students fees for their services progressively without informing them from the beginning. For example, once a student’s

application has been sent to providers, they begin to introduce new charges for student visa applications, or medical checks. This is unethical behaviour.

Misrepresenting fee structures

A number of agents have misrepresented the fee structure of some providers’ courses. For example, a student normally pays OHSC on enrolment. There have been reports of agents not informing student’s that OHSC has been included in the fee and keeping this portion of money. Just before the student applies for their student visa, they learn from their agent that their OHSC has not been paid and are asked to pay this money again.

Placement into a course for commission reasons alone without due regard of a students needs

An agency may have a limited number of providers that it recruits for and can claim commission. So, there is a temptation to persuade students to go to one of these providers against the educational interests of the student.

Not protecting students personal details

In the normal course of their role, agents learn a great deal of personal information about their students. It is important that they:

  • treat this information confidentially and carefully;
  • do not pass this on to other businesses or people without the permission of the student.

Unethical Practice in Dealings with providers

Examples: Explanation


Submitting fraudulent documents

In some cases agents have knowingly submitted false documents to providers, and sometimes they have been involved in creating the false documentation.

While many academic documents can be verified (such as language test results), other documents can be more difficult to identify such as work-related testimonials.

Deceptive advertising

It is important that advertising does not mislead students, even though it will seek to inform students of the benefits of studying at a particular provider or course.

A course outcome can be misleading if false claims are made about:

  • likely employment on successful completion;
  • a provider’s facilities;
  • the local environment.

Unfair comparisons

Similar to deceptive advertising, false comparisons can be drawn between courses or providers to make a course or provider appear more or less appealing. For example, the name of a provider may be similar to a prestigious university and suggestions that the two are linked may unfairly promote the first provider.

Hidden sub-agent networks

Many agents form business relationships with other agencies, especially to form co-operative arrangements that allow them to cover a larger geographical area or represent more institutions. However, the ESOS Act makes providers responsible for their agent’s activities and the provider should always approve


where their marketing material is circulated and who is counselling students on their behalf. Sub-agencies are not a problem if providers are fully informed of the arrangements.

Some sub-agent networks are hidden from providers, which believe that one agent alone is recruiting from a particular region when in fact a number of agencies are recruiting on their behalf but only one agent submits the documents. This practice puts the providers at risk under Australian law.

Unethical Practice in Dealings with the education industry

Examples: Explanation

Case Studies


The case studies described in this lesson try to highlight some of the common problems that agents face in their work.

You will consider a few different situations and make professional judgments about them. Focus Questions

Obtaining student visas for individuals who do not intend to study

Agents need to ensure that individuals come to Australia for the purpose of study.

Not adhering to the legislation surrounding visa advice

For agencies in Australia, the laws governing visa advice require individuals to be Registered Migration Agents to provide substantive visa advice. There is a fine line between providing general study advice and student visa information, so agencies may be tempted to provide this information unlawfully.

This does not apply to agencies operating outside of Australia.

Being engaged in fraudulent practices

Some agents have arranged for other students to sit for the English language tests on behalf of a student who is weak in English.

Some agents have acted dishonestly by preparing inauthentic documents for their student clients.

‘Poaching’ students from other agents and institutions

It is natural that sometimes students wish to change from using one agent to another. For example, they may not want to apply to an institution that the first agent does not represent. However, some agencies engage in systematic ‘poaching’. This means that once a student has gained a substantial amount of information from one agent, another agent approaches them and offers some form of inducement (eg. a fee discount) so the student changes to apply through the second agent. The original agent gets no commission for their initial work. Similarly, some agents induce students to change institutions in the same way without regard for educational suitability or outcomes.

These practices are harmful as they set agencies and institutions against one another and promote the idea that recruitment alone is the only important aspect of an agent’s role. This neglects the need to provide an on-going support system to the student.

  1. In what circumstances can agents work together?
  2. What kind of approval do agents need to obtain from the institutions they represent?
  3. What kind of advice can an agent give in Australia and outside of Australia?
  1. Honesty of Employees

This case study is concerned with what agents reveal to their co-workers, students and superiors.


  • You – a counsellor working in an agency;
  • Another counsellor in your agency;
  • Students in your country.


  • You learn that the other counsellor asks students to pay their tuition fees into his personal account;
  • He then pays the student’s fees on time using his own credit card;
  • He tells you that it helps the students because they don’t have to deal with anyone else in

regard to their payment;

  • He tells you it helps him because he gains the reward poi`nts on his card every time he pays the student’s tuition fees;
  • He is a successful counsellor and students like working with him. Considerations
  • Should the counsellor use his personal credit card for business purposes?
  • Does the student know that the counsellor is gaining reward points?
  • Has the student been given other payment options?
  • Has the supervisor of the agency approved this?
  1. Serving more than one Institution

This case study considers how a student should apply to different education institutions.


  • You – a counsellor working in an agency;
  • A prospective student in your country. Situation
  • The student is keen to study Engineering in Australia;
  • She is not sure about which university or location to study at;
  • She wants to apply to as many courses as possible;
  • She compiles a list of 20 engineering courses across Australia.


  • Should you send applications to all 20 institutions?
  • Is she likely to be accepted into all the institutions?
  • What is an acceptable balance to provide a student with suitable options but not generate administrative work for institutions?
  1. Unfair Comparisons

In this case study you’ll see how a student can become confused about which pathway to undertake.


  • You – a counsellor working in an agency;
  • A student;
  • The student’s friend.


  • A student is thinking about undertaking a Diploma of Business program at a TAFE College and then a Bachelor of Business at an affiliated university. You have an agency agreement with these institutions;
  • His friend says that the foundation program she is studying in will be better for him as it guarantees entry if he gets the required grades;
  • The foundation program is run by a private college that you do not have a recruitment agreement with;
  • The student wants your opinion. Considerations
  • You would prefer to place the student in an institution that you represent and claim commission from.
  • You want to find points of comparison between the two courses that presents the Diploma route in a favourable manner.
  • You want to tell the student the truth.
  1. Sub-agent Networks

This case study considers how you can work with other agents.


  • You – a counsellor working in an agency;
  • Another counsellor working in a different agency. Situation
  • The other counsellor would like you to work with her and her agency: If she has a student who wants to go to a university that you represent but she does not, she will send the application form to you and you will process it.
  • Vice versa, if you get a student for an institution she has representation for, then you will send the application form to her.
  • You can share the commission in these cases. Considerations
  • How will you agree to share the work and is there a written agreement to do so?
  • Are the institutions involved aware of or likely to agree to this practice?
  • Will the institutions find out?
  1. Education Advice versus Migration Advice

There are 5 case studies relating to:

  1. Advertising Migration Services
  2. Visa Advice (Offshore)
  3. Visa Advice (Onshore)
  4. Visa Advice (Onshore)
  5. Working with a Registered Migration Agent (RMA)

Part 1: Advertising Migration Services


  • You have recently set up a new agency to work both onshore and offshore;
  • You place advertisements in papers in New Delhi and in Melbourne advertising your


  • The advertisements offer assistance with identifying study opportunities in Australia with migration pathway, finding suitable accommodation and obtaining a visa.


  • What are the regulations that control visa advice?
  • Are there any differences between what can be advertised in New Delhi and in Melbourne?

Part 2 – Visa advice (offshore)


  • You – a counsellor working in your Seoul agency;
  • Two students in Seoul. Situation
  • You recruit a number of students, on behalf of a large University in Melbourne, to undertake Bachelor of Commerce courses;
  • You provide them with advice as to the course requirements and accommodation options;
  • You then advise them of the appropriate visa to apply for and help them fill out the form;
  • You also provide them with advice about possible migration options if they complete their Commerce courses


  • What laws apply to this situation? Part 3 – Visa advice (onshore)


  • You – a counsellor working in your Brisbane agency;
  • One of the students is from Rome. Situation
  • In Brisbane one of the students has personal difficulties and fails to attend classes;
  • His visa has been cancelled and he asks you to help him;
  • He comes to see you at your office in Brisbane, asking for assistance.


  • Can you legally give him any advice?
  • What can you do for this student?

Part 4 – Visa advice (onshore)


  • You – a counsellor working in your Perth agency;
  • A student from Mexico City;
  • The student’s friend.


  • A student your agency recruited in Mexico City brings his friend to see you in your Perth office;
  • His friend asks for help, because he’s fallen in love with one of his fellow Australian students;
  • His friend wishes to stay in Australia. Considerations
  • What advice can you legally provide?
    Part 5 – Working with an Registered Migration Agent


  • You – a counsellor working in your Darwin agency;
  • A colleague who is an RMA;
  • A student in Darwin.


  • A student comes to your Darwin office seeking assistance;
  • Your colleague has dealt with the student before about some visa issues;
  • The student wants to know if you can help her; 13
  • Your co-worker is overseas on business for another 2 weeks. Considerations
  • How does a student know if you are or are not an RMA?
  • How much help can you provide to this student if the RMA is not there?

Part 6 – Student Management

This case study is concerned with your student’s welfare and safety whilst studying in Australia.


  • You – a counsellor working in an offshore agency;
  • A 22-year-old student currently studying at a university in Australia. Situation
  • The student’s laptop was stolen from the classroom in Australia;
  • The student contacted you asking for your advice;
  • She has not told anyone else because she is afraid that her student visa will be cancelled if she’s involved in a crime.


  • What are the legal rights of an overseas student in this case?
  • What are the implications for her student visa?
  • Who could assist the student: at the education provider?: outside of the institute?

Emerging Bad Practice

While only a small proportion of the agent community, a few individuals in our industry seek to gain advantage by un-ethical means, and they will seek ways to avoid scrutiny. The following examples of problematic practices are emerging and are damaging to the reputation of everybody working in recruiting students for Australia.

If you would like to share your concerns for other practices you are aware of, please email us details at

Emerging Issues with SVP (Streamlined Visa Processing)

The Streamlined Visa Processing (SVP) regime has enabled certain students and their agents to gain student visas as part of a SVP package of study but without any intention of studying at the nominated institution. Once arriving in Australia, some students are withdrawing immediately from the institution they had enrolled in and are transferring to other ‘cheaper’ institutions often in different sectors. This is resulting in the original recruiting institution spending considerable administrative time for no benefit, and the original institution ultimately bearing responsibility for these students under the SVP rules. It also supports a culture of “course hopping”.

Some Agents are facilitating this by:

  • Producing fraudulent documents to meet entry requirements or to support requests of withdrawal from studies, and transfer to other providers. There have been cases of letters of offer altered by agents, particularly with changes to the amount of fees charged.
  • Cases of fake flight tickets to support withdrawal requests were discovered by a number of providers. There was an instance where a significant number of tickets had the same reference number and were paid with the same credit card.
  • Early visa approvals, often two months before formal commencement of courses, are creating the issue of non-genuine students having the opportunity to find alternative programs and withdraw from their original provider, before starting their studies.
  • Some regional providers identified the issues of students being misled by agents in regards to the provider’s location. An example was provided, where students enrolled in an institution located in the Sunshine Coast, commute every day from Brisbane.
  • A network of people, including education and migration agents and representatives from poor quality education and training institutions, appears to be active in providing information to international students on arrival, particularly in regards to course hopping, and other poor practices. Letters requesting withdrawals are usually written very clearly and professionally, with references to relevant ESOS legislation showing a command of English above that of the student themselves. A number of letters have been identified as identical, suggesting the systematic support of non-genuine students in some cases. These students requesting transfers between providers are usually not interested in counselling or intervention strategies.