I recently participated in the “Genuine Students Panel” at the ISANA Vic State Conference, alongside colleagues from recruitment, admissions and an education agent. The other panellists talked about the strategies they adopted to recruit genuine students. I was asked to talk about the success of these strategies from a compliance and international student support perspective.
Despite efforts to recruit genuine students, non-genuine student are enrolling in our institutions. This is more likely to occur with providers who have lower entry requirements and tuition fees and are willing to take the risk to meet their enrolment targets.
The recruitment of non-genuine students manifests in an increase in non-compliant outcomes:
- An increase in applications for release and release appeals. These are students who never intended to complete their qualification at their initial provider and were more interested in obtaining a streamlined visa.
- An increase in requests to reduce study load which means students are unlikely to finish their course within expected duration. A breach of Standard 9 of the National Code 2017, unless there are compassionate and compelling reasons to support the reduced load.
- An increase in applications for intermission and appeals based on questionable supporting documentation.
- An increase in the number of students who discontinue and enrol with another institution without complying with Standard 7 – the need to provide a release letter.
- An increase in the number of students who do not meet attendance and course progress requirements. Standards 10 and 11 of the National Code.
- An increase in the number of students excluded for non-payment of fees.
The demands of non-genuine students have resulted in the need to support these non-compliant activities. This means a significant increase in workload across an institution; for compliance staff who need to process these requests; student support staff who are advising students about their options; health services staff who the students are contacting to obtain documentation to support their requests; academic staff who are frustrated by the lack of attendance, engagement and progress of students.
International student advisers and support staff are now faced with the challenge of determining whether they are dealing with a genuine or non-genuine student. Is this a student who genuinely needs support, or are they needing support for non-compliant behaviour?
Non-genuine students in an institution contribute to inefficiencies in service provision as well as a potential human cost. This includes lower morale for people whose primary concern is student welfare, strained relationships between students and staff, reputational risk and a reduction of support available to genuine students. Moreover, these consequences have an economic consequence. Increased workloads require additional staff resources. Current roles are stretched and displaced.
Managing these consequences is twofold. Firstly, we should involve recruitment staff who think their job is done and enrolment targets have been met. Data about non-compliant behaviours and the impact on other staff should be communicated to recruiters. Retention must be a shared responsibility, especially when students are requesting a release or discontinuation because their current course no longer meets their career aspirations.
Secondly, while monitoring agent performance has been improved with the new functionality available in PRISMS, we should dis-endorse the education agents who continue to recruit non-compliant students. They are not doing the work they are being paid to do.
International student advisers and compliance staff should not be second-guessing student requests. Every effort should be made to remove, as soon as possible, students and education agents who demonstrate non-compliant behaviour. Let the student support staff do what they should be doing – providing genuine students with the support they need.