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Peak groups reject student cap, Australia

Peak education groups in Australia have been asked to consider whether a cap on international student numbers could help maintain quality in the education system. However, all have roundly rejected the idea. The suggestion was made by Australia’s new advisory council to the federal government, the IEAC, which is charged with developing a national strategy for international education.

"It was very clear that no-one really thought this was under consideration"

In a discussion paper released last month it stated: “The Council is interested to hear views on whether it is possible or desirable to set national or state and territory and/or institutional targets for a sustainable number of international students across various education sectors.”

However, Sue Blundell of English Australia, one of the six peak bodies feeding into the strategy, told The PIE News: “My feeling is that the question was asked to stimulate consideration and discussion of the concept of ‘sustainable growth’ rather than to actively promote the idea that a cap would be a realistic option.

“The question whether it was desirable or even feasible to set any kind of targets was discussed and it was very clear that no-one really thought this was under consideration.”

“We see this as a real opportunity to contribute to the development of a clear strategy for Australia”

Claire Field, CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET), echoed this. “Australia’s two new national regulators, ASQA and TEQSA, have a critical role to play in relation to determining institutional capacity. Under existing regulations institutions must provide support to students in relation to accommodation and welfare. ACPET does not believe further regulation or caps are needed to ensure students’ needs are met.”

The paper acknowledges that rapid growth in Australian international education over the last decade “outpaced the support services and infrastructure capacity to accommodate the growing number of students, and major problems emerged in some areas”. However, it also concedes that visa restrictions introduced in 2009 to counter this have damaged the country’s AUS$16 billion IE industry.

Phil Honeywood, Executive Director of IEAA, said that the proposed solution of a cap sent the wrong message. He also warned that ambiguous language in the paper on transnational education in the vocational sector could lead to damaging over-regulation.

Despite resistance to the cap, peak bodies remain supportive of the national strategy. Blundell said: “Michael Chaney has just completed a series of small roundtable meetings with industry representatives in all major cities across the country.  The one I attended provided a really good opportunity to discuss a broad range of topics under consideration…”

She added: “We see this as a real opportunity to contribute to the development of a clear strategy for Australia going forward.”

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