“There has been no public evidence provided that such enforcement has occurred at all”
At fellow association, English Australia, however, a contrary view was posited. In a comprehensive dissection of the essential role agencies play in the industry (read the full EA submission here), this membership-body argued that the activities of agents based overseas cannot be regulated by Australian legislation. It also notes that agencies recruit over 70% of English language students in the country.
Current ESOS (Education Services for Overseas Students) legislation already makes education providers accountable for the actions of their partner agencies, it observed (a position endorsed in other submissions).
“How has the ESOS Act been enforced in relation to providers being held accountable for the actions of their agents? There has been no public evidence provided that such enforcement has occurred at all.”
EA went further – lambasting the government for a focus on control rather than being conducive to success: “English Australia believes that Australia is currently wasting many of the opportunities presented by international education, with a focus by government departments on controlling, restricting and curtailing the industry’s activities, rather than focusing, supporting and nurturing an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to engaging with the world through education.”
“English Australia believes that Australia is currently wasting many of the opportunities presented by international education”
It points out that with compliance being shifted on to providers rather than government, they are being forced to shoulder greater costs, and it levels a complaint that is being echoed in the UK; that an accreditation body with 20 years of experience monitoring the Elicos sector (NEAS) is being sidelined due to new accreditation procedures.
The need to ensure international graduates are work-ready
Another issue that many stakeholders raised was the need to ensure international graduates are work-ready, given education is seen as a passport to employment. This is something the new work rights for international graduates is designed to address; “almost guaranteeing” work rights for graduates in-country.
Australia is keen to leverage its ties with Asian nations © ATC
IDP, a global student placement organisation, highlighted increasing recognition that tertiary-level students need English language training in order to graduate as job ready. It said a recent study showed that “it is not automatic that international students’ English proficiency will improve while they study in Australia” and be good enough to operate in a professional workplace.
“It is not automatic that international students’ English proficiency will improve while they study in Australia”
It recommended English language support programmes throughout studies and language testing upon graduation for all as a goal to realise and for potential employers to use.
And Universities Australia (UA) suggested, “Expanding opportunities for international students to undertake study in a third country as part of their Australian studies would increase Australia’s competitiveness in the market for international postgraduate research students.”
Housing, travel and a tourism-style promotion body
Other submissions to IECA note greater access to affordable housing and transport concessions would help counter any perceptions international students have of being ‘cash cows’. Several submissions pointed to ACPET’s survey on travel discounts (although travel discounts are not common in competitor countries).
Accommodation problems have also hit the headlines in Australia and UA notes that universities currently provide on-campus accommodation for approximately 50,125 students at a bed to student ratio of 1:20, “a figure universities recognise as unsatisfactory”.
It calls for greater access for universities to the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) so they can access NRAS funding to build new student accommodation.
Many call for a British Council-style central body; ideally with a hotline to the Prime Minister
And many call for a British Council-style central body charged with overseeing the sector; ideally with a hotline to the Prime Minister. UA suggests,” A centralised body for international education (possibly titled ‘Education Australia’) could be tasked to deliver a much longer term vision and coordinated approach to international education policy.”
Private provider Navitas echoes that call: “Navitas firmly believes that a central focus point at the federal government level, a Parliamentary Secretary for International Education, is required to improve coordination, representation and alignment across the industry.”
Navitas sums up the risks it perceives – universal issues – : a risk of over regulation making Australia uncompetitive; a lack of transparency in visa processes; and providers being held wholly responsible for visa breaches, over which they have no control.
It could be a global battle cry; CEO, Rod Jones, asserts, “Currently myths such as international students taking education places and jobs have gained community credence, when in fact at least 80% of students return home and Australian institutions derive much needed income from student fees.”