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What are the top concerns for Australian stakeholders?

The launch last October of a “supreme council” on international education in Australia, the International Education Advisory Council (IEAC), was an Australian government plan to try to encourage innovative solutions to bolster its beleagured international education industry. Now, the council has released a discussion paper on a five-year plan for “sustainability and quality” in Australia’s international education sector, and submissions from the sector make interesting reading.

How to keep attracting a diverse, satisfied international student population that are not would-be migrants? The sector has spoken...

Effective regulation was needed after a decade of a major growth – an annual compound growth rate of 17% between 2002 and 2011

Concerns over cumbersome legislation crushing innovation and a new “Genuine Temporary Entrant” test figure highly among stakeholders keen to ensure Australia’s industry can retain its pioneering edge. Nearly every submission calls for national recognition of the value of the sector (AUS$16 billion); some demand public acknowledgement of this. Strong statements on agent regulation are also made.

The point of the discussion paper is to draw out insightful comment on where to go next, following already extensive review – notably the Baird review and the Knight review; all the recommendations of this latter Knight review were adopted by the government.

These included major changes to the visa system to ensure easier access for tertiary-level students (albeit with a safety check by immigration authorities), focusing the compliance burden on host institutions but also making access to the employment market seamless for graduates (of the same tertiary-level institutions).

In 2011, more than half of all international students commencing in HE had followed a prior study pathway, either Elicos or VET

The establishment of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), a regulatory and quality agency for HE, and Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), responsible for vocational (VET) qualifications and courses, built on the Baird Review’s emphasis on effective regulation.

This was needed after a decade of a major growth – an annual compound growth rate of 17% between 2002 and 2011, as noted by Austrade’s Quentin Stevenson-Perks – which meant the sector outgrew its regulatory confines.

Elicos and vocational

While these changes were welcomed, those representing the Elicos (English language intensive courses for overseas students) sector call for more extensive implementation of the new rules on work rights and visa issuance (a pilot extension is in the pipeline). And visa statistics, detailed extensively in the discussion paper, underline just how important this sector is in the bigger picture.

Australia is keen to promote itself as an education destination that prepare and enables students to work in a global economy ©ATC

In 2011, more than half of all international students commencing in HE had followed a prior study pathway, either an Elicos or VET (vocational education and training) programme before transferring on, and Elicos is also a robust stand-alone sector, as underlined by English Australia (EA).

“Is locking young adult students into a defined study pathway educationally sound practice?”

VET has been considered as the most poorly-regulated of the sectors within international education, although this should be changing. But Skills Australia notes that greater transparency of information is needed: “Around 85% of international VET students are enrolled with private providers, [but] national VET statistics are only being collected on publicly funded training”.

It suggests a rollout of a listings website MySkills, to complement MyUniversity, could help if well managed (although MyUniversity received criticism when rolled out this year).

IEAC acknowledged that some problems occured as the VET sector grew rapidly from 2006-2009. Annual growth rates in VET enrolments were around 50 per cent annually in 2007 and 2008, “a rate which was clearly unsustainable”. Moreover, “unfortunately, at that time, some students on vocational courses were there not for the learning on offer, but solely as an easy route to seeking Australian permanent residence”.

By cutting the guaranteed link between graduation and migration in 2010 (cancelling 20,000 applications in process), this particular loophole was closed.

GTE receives criticism from the sector

A more recent government action receives criticism by stakeholders; that of the Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) Requirement which was ushered in in November last year. Given Streamlined Visa Processing, GTE is a “safety check”; it means immigration authorities have to determine a visa applicant’s bona fides – this can be via a telephone call to an applicant, The PIE News has learned.

Although Australia’s Immigration Department states, “The GTE requirement will not make it more difficult for genuine student visa applicants to obtain”, clearly stakeholders feel otherwise.

Independent preparatory college, Canning College, said in its submission, “GTE provides Immigration officers with a structure to subjectively reject visa applications. These rejections cannot be challenged, therefore, there is no accountability to clients for decisions made.” It goes further: “There are already cases where GTE provisions are being applied differently in different visa processing offices and being over enthusiastically applied by Immigration officers.”

“This situation requires close monitoring and amendment where apparently spurious, subjective decisions are being made”

ACPET, which has its CEO on the council, backed up this concern. It stated, “Our members report that the recently introduced GTE criterion appears to be resulting in increases in student visa refusals across all sectors. This situation requires close monitoring and amendment where apparently spurious, subjective decisions are being made.”

It calls for DIAC to release a report to industry on the impact of the GTE.

Canning College also said current Streamlined Visa Processing for pathway colleges and universities was unfair to secondary-level institutions, and, possibly, the students.

“Is locking young adult students into a defined study pathway educationally sound practice?”, asked the college.

A national policy regarding the use of education agents

Another area under discussion is a national policy regarding the use of education agents. The University of Western Australia called for a body such as AIRC in the USA. IECA highlighted the recent London Statement related to ethical princples for agencies – launched in tandem with the UK’s British Council, but ACPET also stated that accreditation would be beneficial to ensure a cohesive service was provided to agency clients.[more>>]

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7 Responses to What are the top concerns for Australian stakeholders?

  1. Good analysis Amy – this most recent discussion paper has provided a good opportunity for the Australian international education industry to share their concerns and to focus on what needs to be done.

  2. Sympton of the poisonous political and media climate in Australia where all things “foreign” and related have been negatively conflated for maximum impact, with little thought of the medium long term effects. This includes refugees, immigration, population growth, environment, Asians/Moslems, property prices, international education, unemployment etc. which has strong “whiff” of neo “white Australia” policy……

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