(The following was posted on 22 February 2016 in Facebook groups (New Nepalese youth in New Zealand and Nepalese Student Community - Auckland) that have reach among the international students from Nepal in New Zealand. It was also sent to ECAN. See Volume 2 for ECAN's response to my email.)
A humble request and an open letter to the concerned Education Consultancies in Nepal who are acting on behalf of Education Institutes to send students to New Zealand.
In light of the recent sad news of Raju Bhandari in Sydney (covered in news at this link - http://www.nepalitimes.com.au/?p=347), a few members of the Nepali community in New Zealand including myself are increasingly concerned with the plight of the newly arrived students. Among those who land in Auckland International Airport (AIA), only a ver few transit in to the Kiwi life relatively without much drama. These are the lucky students.
There are another majority group of students who are not that lucky. These unlucky ones face various problems right from the time they land at the AIA. One example: Student A is admitted to a college in Palmerston North through an Education Consultancy in Kathmandu. When Student A arrives at AIA late in the night, he has no idea where he is and where Palmerston North (Palmy) is - Mars or Pluto let alone North Island or South Island. Panic and extreme stress sets in for Student A the minute he lands. Even before he gets out of the plane, he does not know answer to the first and fundamental question - where I am going from here?
One would argue that at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of Student A to figure out answer to such basic questions. What about the role and responsibility of the Education Consultancy who received a respectable percentage of the school tuition fee as commission that Student A paid to the Kiwi institution? On top of the commission on school tuition fee, the consultancy also charges the student an exorbitant (from my personal standard for the limited 'lip-service' they offer) sum as their service fee. I have got no idea if a contract for service delivery is signed between a student (service receiver) and the consultancy (service provider). I would not be surprised if such a contract mechanism does not exist at all.
We have heard horror stories from students in NZ of passport holding and bullying from Education Consultancies that continue to occur even after they arrive in NZ. In some cases this becomes on-going saga for at least few months. At instances, Consultancies have apparently passed false information of students they previously sent to NZ such as saying Student B went to NZ from my consultancy and s/he is already settled, working full-time professional job and received PR. The reality is Student B is still struggling in every aspect of student life from renewing visa to finding a decent accommodation.
Luckily for Student A, he somehow met a Nepali in the AIA who took him home for the night, gave him a roof to stay for the night and helped him get to Palmy (500+km from Auckland) on a bus the next day. Was it not the responsibility of the Education Consultancy who processed Student A's case, and made money from providing him/her service? Is it not up to the Consultancy to make arrangements to ensure s/he reached his/her destination safe and sound in NZ? From what I gather by talking to the students, it seems the Education Consultancies can't be bothered about welfare of the students. They seem to be after only one thing - money from the students.
It will be unfair if we said all potatoes in the basket are rotten. By the sounds of it most are, unfortunately, rotten to the core. There are a handful consultancies who have fairly better reputation than others in NZ. I won't name names here; this is for later of some other time. I'll leave that in the opinion of the students who have used the Consultancies' service. For now, let me make the following points 100% clear and gently remind our brothers and sisters in Kathmandu who are running Consultancies to send students to NZ.
1. From the experience of living here more than 10 years and working closely with Ministry of Education, Immigration NZ and NZ Police during response to April 2015 earthquake, it seems to me that the NZ government agency who oversee international students from Nepal is AWARE of each and every case of students and their Agents (i.e. Consultancies in Nepal). The big brother is always watching.
2. Until now the NZ government agency has not paid closer attention (as I said in 1 above, they are already aware) to the plight of Nepali students due to various reasons, including their stretched resources and other priorities. The spot light fell on our students temporarily during the earthquake response but for different purpose, not for the agee bagee practices.
3. It only needs one high-profile case, and that's it. What happens after that is anyone's best geuss. I just want all concerned students and the Kiwi schools' agents in Nepal to research why did it become stricter for Nepali students to enter Australia a couple of years ago? I am sure you have better knowledge of your industry than a layman such as myself.
4. It would take just one unfortunate case or one phone call to the authorities from a grumpy student and the agents (i.e Education Consultancies) in Nepal and their sister college in NZ could be drafting answers to the NZ authorities' 'please explain'. If found guilty the Consultant in Nepal may be kissing their agent license good bye. If the students are hesitant to report, it is now highly likely that the some good samaritan will step up sooner or later. People have had enough of this sorry saga of students' suffering and exploitation in the name of providing consultancy.
In the spirit of starting to address this genuine problem of the students and finding a solution, on behalf of the community organisations I represent (one of which has recently taken initiatives in Auckland to try to address the students' problems) and on behalf of those members of the Nepali community in NZ who are really worried about the new students' plight, we want to make the following request to the Education Consultancies who send Nepali students in NZ.
a. Be aware of the points 1-4 above. Most importantly, please note you could be loosing your permission/license if you continue to mistreat your client who paid for your service. You may be inadvertently putting the reputation of the Education Institution (college) in NZ at risk due to your malpractice. Under those circumstances, I can guarantee you, the institutions won't be able to help you. NZ is a place where right of an individual, including students, is held very high. This is at the heart of the very establishment of this nation. The authorities take is how seriously, I cannot stress enough. During earthquake response in April 2015, the Human Rights Commission of NZ (www.hrc.co.nz) had offered to help facilitate to ensure the rights of Nepali students are held to the highest regard. Back then, I personally communicated with the Commissioner and met the Commission's officer at one instance.
b. Set up a mechanism by which means, we want you (all Education Consultancies) to take full responsibility for making it transparent (by posting in facebook groups like this one to start with until we come up with an alternative mutually agreeable better workable solution) that you have 100% ensured that the student coming to NZ through using your service reaches his/her accommodation from AIA safely on the day they arrive in NZ. Also make sure that you have ensured s/he has at least a week's accommodation pre-arranged. If you fail to do so, from here on there will now be response from NZ to your incompetence. Please note that it is not a threat, it is a genuine request.
Please don't think there is no one to speak up for the students. There are many. Silence does not mean, our people here are oblivious of your tricks. Please treat this message as a signal of what is to come ahead as a push back to the Consultancies' behaviours towards our vulnerable students. This is a first step towards providing support to our students who have come here with a dream to build a career and to realise their dream. You can help them do that or you can be on the wrong side of the fence. The choice is yours. The choice you make will determine the future of your business. Simple as that.
The ball is in your court now. It is up to you how you want to play it - hard or soft. We live here so we know this country. We strongly advise you that you give this matter due consideration that it deserves and take our sincere and free advice on board.
We don't want sad stories such as that of young Raju Bhandai in NZ. You might recall there was a similar sad incident right here in NZ in Mt Manganui only few weeks ago. We are not saying it is all fault of the Education Consultancies but your practice and treatment of our students is not helping them manage their stress. You could be doing what you are supposed to do i.e. to help the students have a smooth transition from a young student to a new life in NZ. Your negligence (is it deliberate or inadvertent is matter of another debate) is rather adding to their stress even before they leave Nepali soil and follows them like a shadow to NZ.
You can take simple steps described above in point 'b' to help the students who help you make money. Please be ensured that you ignore this advice at your own and your business' peril. Again, this is not a threat. This is a genuine advice.
Let us treat this message as a starting point. There are a lot of work to do to reach to a satisfactory position regarding our students from the sad situation they are in today. We shall get there eventually.
Shyam Bhandari, could you please kindly respond to this message (as I said we have not said your agency Rohini is good or bad; we will leave that to the students who have used your service) and kindly also help us make other Educational Consultancies aware about this message? we do not seem to have contacts of other consultancies handy. We can find them but your help would help speed up approaching them. Many thanks.