In February 2022 the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) came out with ‘The Regulation for Training Consultancy and Placement Firms (TCPF),’ which allowed the registration of TCPF Consultancies to provide ex-country Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) studies (diplomas) in recognized institutions.
After the regulation around 16 mainly new firms registered to be consultants with MoLHR including two or three existing Education Consultancies and this opened the flood gates of youths applying for Diploma Courses.
The consultants were mainly new and inexperienced and so many of them were not aware that Australia has a high rejection rate for diploma courses, and being new and inexperienced, they also were not adequately aware of ensuring quality submissions and the mistakes to avoid.
However, there were several youth applicants for the diploma courses and eventually a few months down the line the rejection letters started coming in think and fast leading to an outcry among the students, quite a few of whom even suspected the government was behind it.
Ironically, while the MoLHR’s regulations were meant to promote and encourage ex-country TVET studies it inadvertently ended up doing the opposite as far as Australia was concerned.
Palden Tshering the head of operation of ECPF Global Reach and Chairman of the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies (ABEC) said that earlier all educational consultancies or Education Consultancy and Placement Firms (ECPFs) had to register with the Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) under the Education Ministry where the compliance is very tight and it is not easy to get a license.
He said the DAHE registered ECPFs focused on higher education as per their mandate which is mainly Masters and Undergraduate courses or a Diploma with a pathway to get a Graduate degree.
Palden said that his own firm ECPF Global Reach way back in 2009 had stopped sending students for stand alone diploma courses as even back then the rejection rate was high as it is lowest in the hierarchy of courses to get visa acceptance, and instead he encouraged students to apply for a Diploma with a pathway to get a Graduate degree which is a four year course where you get both a diploma and a Graduate Degree.
Prior to August 2021 there were no restrictions for ECPFs to send students on diploma courses but from August 2021 DAHE announced that ECPFs cannot send diploma students.
There are currently 46 ECPFs registered with DAHE and they focused mainly on the Higher Education courses and so things were going well.
This is until the February 2022 TCPF regulations that not only allowed in the entry of inexperienced consultants for ex-country TVET studies, but also led to a free for all with many even ECPF consultants quietly accepting applications for diploma students in large numbers.
Another factor was that while earlier Masters and Undergraduate Courses were popular among Bhutanese going to Australia as more people went there was a realization that Diploma Courses are cheaper by around 30 to 40% or even more and academically much less taxing with similar visa benefits.
Greed from the side of both TCPF and ECPF consultancies was also a major factor as they could charge students Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 in consultancy fees or commission once an educational institute in Australia accepted their application, never mind that it was a different story when it came to getting the visas.
A source on the condition of anonymity said there were consultants accepting hundreds of applications and even if half of them got rejected as the fees kept coming.
The source said while this led to consultants making money it clogged up the visa system with bad applications that consumed time and delayed others and so visa replies also got delayed.
Some consultants do not charge any commissions from the students as they take a fee from the University once the student is enrolled down there.
The problem was more in the case of consultancies who took the Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 commissions for diplomas from students which would be refunded if the student does not get admission in an institute, but there is no refund if the visa does not come through later.
A rush of a large number of hastily prepared diploma applications with copy and paste statements of purpose was soon detected by the machines that processed these applications and the rejection rates went even higher.
As Consultants competed with each other to get more clients and hence more commissions, some of them now started offering diploma courses without the need to do IELTS. This would mean they would have to go to Australia around 3 to 4 months in advance to do English courses there which are quite expensive at Nu 300,000 to Nu 500,000 when a simple IELTS tests cost around 17,000 only.
This led to another red flag for the Australian visa officials when many students started applying for diploma courses without the IELTS test.
Already suspicious Australian visa officials then started calling some diploma applicants in Bhutan as part of their normal due diligence to ask questions about the courses, and it did not help when some students were not even adequately aware what courses they were taking or why were they taking them.
Due to a combination of the above factors the Australian visa officials slammed the brakes on many diploma applications from Bhutan leading to the high rejection rates and subsequent conspiracy theories.
The MoLHR Minister Karma Dorji said, “We did meet with the training consultant providers and also the education consultancy firms last time and during the meeting they were saying that firstly the rejection rate is high in the case of diplomas for Australia.”
“Secondly, with these consultancy firms being new, I think the statement of purpose were copied and so when the machines went through it they detected the similarities,” said Lyonpo.
“Next, while applying for diplomas their bank balance, guarantee and assurance of coming back in Bhutan after finishing the course was not done well or convincing enough. They could not convince (visa officials) that they are going to come back,” added Lyonpo.
Lyonpo said that some of the older consultants who have already been doing this for a while are now advising the newer ones accordingly.
“The new consultants missed some of the above advice. In the beginning they accepted everybody. Since they themselves did not know they also did not advise the students well,” said Lyonpo.
On the TCPF regulations Lyonpo it was something new for which they made the regulations and people got excited as 16 of them registered.
Lyonpo said with that consultative meeting they are more comfortable and know more details and the issues.
The ministers said in some cases right after class 12 there were those who did not take up any jobs and so these were also not accepted.
Lyonpo said that as per the regulations consultants have to refund the tuition fees for unsuccessful candidates but it will take time as it has to come from the institutes in Australia.
Lyonpo clarified that the TCPF regulations is more to place TVET people in foreign countries like Japan, Singapore, Australia etc but problems developed in the case of Australia due to the ignorance of the new consultants.
As the way forward, the TCPF’s though authorized to deal with only diploma or TVET level students have joined the association of ECPFs which is the Association of Bhutanese Education Consultancies and so with better guidance from the older consultancies the aim to to ensure higher quality applications and lower rejection rates.
Of the 16 TCPFs that registered from February 2022 onwards only 10 are functional showing the high attrition rate in this field.