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Agencies Catering to Study Abroad Criticized by Parents, Students
Some 25,000 Chinese per year go abroad to study in 103 countries around the world. This puts China at the top of countries throughout the world in the number of students studying abroad, which in turn has created an industry in China of intermediary agents that provide students -- most of whom are paying their own expenses -- with services in regard to their travel, tuition fees, board and other matters.

On Feb 1, at Beijing Dongcheng District Court, a hearing on a lawsuit filed by a high school graduate against one of these agents drew wide attention in China. This student went to a college in Britain last year only to return 77 days later because of unsatisfactory living conditions. He then filed a suit against the intermediary agent for false promises.

As study abroad has become increasingly popular in the past two years, stories of misfortunes happening to students while they are overseas are also increasing -- with a large amount of the blame falling on intermediary agencies.

In Wuhan City, capital of Hubei Province, alone 13 mothers received overseas calls from their children studying in Paris with the news that even a month after setting foot in Paris the students still had not received the suitable apartments promised by agents. They also discovered the tuition fee hadn’t been paid in full even though the intermediary agent has charged them an extra 4,000 francs above the required fee.

“Maybe soon we will be ordered not to take classes, and so far, the residential card hasn’t been issued,” one student reported home.

Similar stories were reported in Suzhou, among students who had been studying in Cyprus. Despite claims by an agency that a school there had a good reputation for its advanced education and that the school offered convenient ways for students to transfer to some other Western or American schools for further advanced studies, students were disappointed to find the school had only about 10 classrooms and seven teachers that its diplomas were not even recognized in Cyprus.

Intermediary agencies are regulated in China, the most recent having been issued in June, 2001 by the Public Security Bureau of the People’s Republic of China and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

However, in terms of supervision of these agencies, a lot remains to be done. Regulations need to be standardized with controls that will take care of the many loopholes that now exist and allow unqualified intermediary agents to operate in China.

In April of last year, a seminar on the regulation of intermediary agents, who deal with self-supported overseas studies, reported that there are only 228 state-recognized qualified intermediary agents in China. Another 450 checked as unqualified.

Early last year, the Exit-entry Administration of Nanjing Public Security Bureau punished 53 illegal intermediary agents who dealt with entry and exit of citizens without official permission. Another 48 were forced to stop their businesses pending further investigation. According to sources, among 309 known intermediary agents engaged in overseas studies in Beijing, only 46 are running their business legally.

Although it is clearly indicated in the regulations that all overseas institutions, China-based foreign companies, joint ventures or joint educational institutes are not entitled to run study-abroad intermediary services in China, there are still about 50 such institutes running a service outside this limitation. By taking advantage of their own conveniences and by catering to people’s insatiable desire to go abroad, they make money under such fronts as “consulting centers for investment and development abroad,” without any legal permission.

In addition, many legal intermediary service centers also transfer their management qualifications to other unauthorized institutes illegally in the name of “cooperation,” and such illegal management recently has become more apparent and serious. So far, around 40 intermediary service centers transferred by one legal company have been under serious investigation and have been dealt with according to law.

Legal intermediary agents must hold “Qualification Certificate as an Intermediary Service Institute for Self-funded Overseas Studies” by the Ministry of Education, Public Security Bureau and State Administration for Industry and Commerce. And the business stipulated in the certificate includes: Providing consulting services for information and law, dealing with college applications on behalf of the applicants, providing visa service, providing training for going abroad, etc. The simplest way to identify whether an intermediary agent is legal or not is to check its “Three Certificates.” In addition to the qualification certificate issued by the Ministry of Education, the statement of “Intermediary Service for Self-funded Study-abroad” should also be clearly written on its business license. At the same time, a bank receipt of 1-million-yuan reserved money for liability is also necessary.

Strictly speaking, it is illegal for some so-called Immigrant Service Institutions to deal with study-abroad cases. It is stipulated that every intermediary agent has to be approved by authorities of this field. Any organization or institution without authorization is not entitled to run an intermediary business. In this regard, consumers have to be very cautious.

Another point that is worth attention is that consumers must be well informed about whether a school’s information is accurate and comprehensive. It would be ideal to choose schools that have some relations with local governments so as to avoid interferences by illegal service centers. Last but not the least, whether the relations between the agent and the students is standard with clear delineation of duties and responsibility for both parties -- including items regarding school-contact, timing for the visa, and conditions for refunds -- should also be seriously considered.

Concerned officials with the Chinese Service Center For Scholarly Exchange reminds prospective overseas students and their parents that for those who go abroad to study via intermediary agents, they would be wise to go to the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange to consult about the schools’ information. Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange is able to organize experts to evaluate the school’s faculty background and its reputation for teaching and research.

(光明日报 [Guangming Daily], edited and translated by Feng Shu for china.org.cn May 16, 2002)

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