Con with the wind 

Dreams come crashing as fly-by-night consultancies prey on students seeking to travel abroad for studies and job opportunities. 
Express Illustration by Sourav Roy
Express Illustration by Sourav Roy

KOCHI:  In July last year, a youth from Kasargod arrived in Kochi with a bagful of dreams. He wanted to study and settle in Europe. An ‘education consultancy firm’, about which he came to know through a social media platform, promised to give him wings.  

After a one-hour discussion at the firm’s office in Kacheripady, the 26-year-old was convinced about moving to Italy by September 2022. He paid them Rs 1 lakh. 

Months passed, and there was no response from the firm. On realising that he had been conned, the youth filed a complaint at the Ernakulam Central police station. Officers initiated action against the firm, Orion Edutech, in Kochi and its MD was arrested.

Recently, it came to light that the firm was involved in arranging a fake certificate for SFI leader Nikhil Thomas, who is now in the dock. 

Notably, in 2022 alone, the police identified at least 38 bogus overseas recruitment and education agencies operating in Kochi. 

“Orion Consultancy operated under various names – Orion Edutech, Orion Overseas Education, Orion Eduwing…. They conned many students and job hunters,” says an officer. 

“They were into fake certificates, too. There are 15 cases registered against the company in Kochi alone. There are cases registered in other parts of the state as well.”

Kochi City Police Commissioner K Sethuraman says students across Kerala must be cautioned against falling into traps. 

“Like overseas recruitment, many students are getting cheated by agencies offering foreign education,” he notes. 

“There needs to be more awareness of admission and travel processes. Unlike in the case of overseas recruitment, there is no licensing mechanism for foreign education agencies. We frequently receive complaints about students being scammed.”

Though Kochi has emerged as a hub of foreign education scamsters, there has been a spike in fraud cases in Thiruvananthapuram as well. 

For instance, in October last year, a man was arrested for duping crores of rupees from students seeking European education visas. The culprit ran a ‘foreign education consultancy’ in the capital city. 

“Such agencies lure students with packages that include admission, accommodation, part-time work and even stay-back options,” says a police officer. “Unfortunately, there is no licencing authority for these agencies.”

The number of Indian students seeking foreign education has ballooned in recent times. According to the Central education ministry, over 7.5 lakh students went abroad in 2022 in comparison with 4.45 lakh in 2021. 

The Kerala government has no clear-cut data. However, experts estimate that about 30,000 students from the state went abroad for educational purposes last year. This year, they note, the number is expected to grow by at least 25 per cent.

Shajeendran K K, who has been in the overseas education consultancy sector for more than a decade, stresses that students as well as parents should do basic homework before entrusting money to consultants and agencies.

“We know several cases in which people were cheated after being provided bogus visas,” he adds. 
“There have been cases of students being provided with substandard facilities abroad. A thorough background check is a must before handing over money. Similarly, maximum information should be collected about the university or college where admission to the student is promised.” 

Shajeendran says parents should suspect fraud if students are not provided with valid log-in IDs and passwords after admission is confirmed at a foreign college. 

“More scams are reported among students seeking to study in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany these days,” he adds. “It will cost at least Rs 10- 20 lakh for foreign courses and other facilities. Watch out for traps if any agency promises courses without clearing English or other foreign language proficiency tests.”

Legislation to regulate agencies  

In February, Kerala State Higher Education Council formed a three-member committee to assess the rise in the number of educational consultancies offering admissions abroad and in other states.  Sources say the state government is mulling legislation to regulate private education consultancy services. 

Headed by Kerala Digital University Vice-Chancellor Saji Gopinath, the committee includes Kerala Higher Education Council member R K Suresh Kumar and Supreme Court lawyer Sreeram Parakkap. “We cannot speak much on the matter, as the report is yet to be filed; it will be submitted soon,” says Saji. “We have carried out a study on educational consultancies here. A framework for the legislation intended by the state government is being prepared.”

Benoy Peter, co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, notes that the majority of students who fall prey to scams are those who look to settle abroad after enrolling on any course that’s available. 

“They mainly look for the duration of the stay-back option offered as part of the course, and the time taken for getting permanent resident status. Such students are vulnerable to traps.” Notably, state-run Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants Limited (ODEPC) has started a consultancy service for students interested in overseas education.

“We assess the aptitude of students who approach us,” says ODEPC managing director Anoop K A. “We arrange studies at reputed institutions, with whom we maintain a direct tie-up. We have found that cheating is high in the medical education segment. Students who do not score enough here seek to go abroad, and many of them get cheated.” 

Students, watch out

  1. Do a thorough background check of the agency
  2. Ensure the authenticity of the visa issued
  3. Ask for the login id and password provided by the education institution once the admission procedure is completed.
  4. Check official websites of institutions to verify courses promised by agencies.
  5. Get in touch with the designated authority that supervises the affairs of students from other countries in foreign universities and colleges
  6. Speak with students who are already studying at the same university or college
  7. Cross-check scholarship offers made by the agency and the respective educational institution

With inputs from Shan A S and Rahul R

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