ABEC halts promotion of visa success photos and testimonials – ‘Responsible Advertising’

…𝒂𝒔 𝒂𝒏 𝒂𝒔𝒔𝒐𝒄𝒊𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏, 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒎𝒆𝒎𝒃𝒆𝒓𝒔 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒖𝒏𝒂𝒏𝒊𝒎𝒐𝒖𝒔𝒍𝒚 𝒂𝒈𝒓𝒆𝒆𝒅 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒖𝒆 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒄𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒈𝒐𝒐𝒅

By Phurpa Wangmo

In a move towards promoting ethical practices in the education consultancy industry, the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies (ABEC) has endorsed the importance of ‘responsible advertising’, which includes the practice of visa grant notices.

The proliferation of visa grant publicity on social media has created a false impression that acquiring a visa for studying in Australia is easy and within everyone’s reach. This trend has given rise to an unhealthy practice among education consultancies, each vying to flaunt the large number of visa grants to Australia, with the ultimate aim of attracting more clients and augmenting their business.

While this strategy is a shrewd business tactic and a potent advertising technique, it has garnered criticism from many quarters for misrepresenting the reality of it and bordering on deception.

Concerns were raised about this issue in early 2022, amongst ABEC members agreeing that collectively they must provide reliable information and refrain from misleading or misinforming potential Bhutanese students.
This decision was made because irresponsible advertising created unreal expectations and negatively affected the industry.

Palden Tshering, chairman of the steering committee for ABEC and Global Reach owner, affirmed that “all ABEC members have unanimously agreed to support responsible advertising.” He also noted that this was not a new decision, as many education consultancies and training placement firms had already voluntarily refrained from posting 24-hour visa grant notices 30 visa grants in a day and the acceptance of low TOEFL or IELTS scores.

By endorsing ‘responsible advertising’, the ABEC hopes to promote transparency and reliability in the education consultancy industry and ensure that Bhutanese students receive accurate and helpful information when making decisions about their study abroad options.

When asked if all education consultancies were under the ABEC, Palden explained one consultant had chosen not to be affiliated with the association. “Their reasoning was that they preferred to have control over their own marketing without regulation. While we respect their decision, the door will always be open should they change their mind.” He added that unity and collaboration was important to achieve greater success.

“We are responsible for what we post.” If consultants advertise fast visa approvals in a short period of time, clients will expect it. When the visa process takes longer than advertised, clients can sue for false advertising, he explained. “This is why responsible advertising is important. To set the record straight, the average time an Australian visa takes based on the recommendation of the Australian High Commission is 60 working days.”

With regard to informing students about the challenges they should expect, Palden said, “ABEC members inform students about the challenges of studying abroad and applying for student visas. In many cases students hear what they want and ignore what they don’t. That’s a problem.”

Global Reach advertising has always focused on educating and creating an awareness of the process and requirements for study abroad options. It was a moral decision to not highlight visa grant pictures over 20 years ago when we started and we still stand by it. There are many other consultancies that have always been very conscious of what they post as well. Global Reach is not unique in this approach, Palden explained.

Right now any ECPF/TCPF business license holder that has been approved and endorsed by the Bhutan Qualifications and Processionals Certification Authority (BQPCA) under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development is a part of ABEC.

Palden said that businesses have the right to make their own decisions and how they operate dictates their path forward.

However, he said, making reference to the past marketing strategies, “Don’t believe the hype. You are making an investment into your future, it is a lot of money and if you can’t do your own homework, fill in the application forms, write your own SOP, ask intelligent questions to your counsellor about visa requirements, make the effort to score well in the TOEFL with preparation and want to force your dream with a weak profile and apply for a visa even when your advised to work on the profile, you should save your money”.

Other messaging decisions were made prior to this meeting and have been stopped. As an association, the members have unanimously agreed to continue working for the collective good.

Palden added as the chairman of the steering committee for ABEC, “Our mandate is to ensure that any Bhutanese seeking advice for education outside of Bhutan should have access to information that is correct, up to date and not misleading from any consultant under the ABEC umbrella”.

He further added that it’s to look after the interests of the industry to help newer consultants find their footing and understand the responsibility we have when it comes to providing people with the right information. And finally it’s to uphold a standard of credibility, so whichever consultancy a student may visit they should be confident that they are dealing with a reliable office regardless of the final study destination.

Many consultancies have refrained from posting similar messages on their social media pages following the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies meeting.

However, EducationPro, the only firm who is not a member of the ABEC refused to comment.

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