Australia introduces legislation on sharing agent data

The Australian government has introduced legislation that will allow providers to access performance data held on agents, and in a change to the previously outlined draft bill, agent consent will not be required.

The Education Legislation Amendment (Provider Integrity & Other Measures) Bill 2017 was given a second reading in parliament last week and covers a number of areas of the ESOS, TEQSA and HESA Acts, including making it more difficult for vocational providers to enter higher education.


Among the changes is the introduction of reporting on agent performance, using data gathered from the Provider Registration and International Management System (PRISMS), which since 2012 has allowed providers to record the use of an agent when enrolling students.


Agent performance data in areas such as visa grants, refusals, cancelled visa status and student completion rates can be provided to institutions by the Department of Education and Training.


Previous drafts of the bill included an opt-out clause, meaning that an agent's consent would be required to access the information.


However, the final version of the legislation appears to include no opt-out clause. In its analysis of the changes, the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) said, "The bill also cites the Australian Privacy Principles guidelines which allow disclosure of personal information without the individual's consent, if that disclosure is required, covered by or under an Australian law (or court order). All of which implies that there is no opt out."


"There is no doubt that education agents play a significant role in the recruitment of international students in Australia," said Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA).


"Although the majority of agents are entirely scrupulous in their recruitment of international students, it is always the unfortunate few who can tarnish both Australia's and their own professional reputation."


He added, "Reporting on agent performance, and publishing data as appropriate, will promote greater transparency and accountability in educator-agent relationships and the wider sector."


When the Department of Education and Training announced the agent information initiative, it said, "This work aims to acknowledge the valuable role played by international education agents and acknowledge the good performance achieved by the majority of agents."


Rod Camm, CEO of the Australia Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) also welcomed the data sharing development in his weekly newsletter: "The ESOS Act changes will also include a greater focus on the activities of agents with the government able to publish, and share with providers, their performance data. While there appears a wide range of views on this, I certainly support it."


Elsewhere the new amendments include provisions to strengthen industry regulators' ability to prevent "unscrupulous" providers from entering the market by expanding the 'fit and proper persons' test and extending reporting of events, such as change of ownership.


The Department of Education said there had been a surge in new vocational providers seeking to enter the higher education sector following reforms to the VET student loan scheme introduced at the beginning of the year.


Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training, said,  "This Bill will ensure that the quality for which our higher education sector is renown, across public and private universities and non-university higher education providers, is protected and enhanced in the years ahead."



By Matthew Knott

News Editor