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Int’l students left “bewildered” as Australia’s migration debate continues

Australia's prime minister has defended his clampdown policy on "Mickey Mouse courses" and stated that annual immigration figures will be halved to 250,000 in the 2024/25 financial year.
April 24 2024
4 Min Read

Australia’s prime minister has defended a clampdown on “Mickey Mouse courses” that he says enabled non-genuine students to remain in the country under the previous government and stated that annual immigration figures will be halved to 250,000 in the 2024/25 financial year.

Speaking on 3AW radio on April 19, Anthony Albanese said that by the end of the next financial year, his government is “determined” to cut immigration, after inheriting a system “that was a mess”.

“What we’ve been doing is making sure that in areas such as vocational education, for example, some people were coming here doing courses that were, frankly, Mickey Mouse courses, using that to stay here for a very long period of time,” he said.

“What we’re doing is putting integrity and rigour back into the system. Now, students coming here is an important source of economic income.

“It can also be a good thing for our neighbours as well to get the value of an Australian education. But the system wasn’t working properly. We’re making sure that it does work properly.”

Since coming into office in May 2022, Albanese has led a government that announced a huge shakeup of the higher education system in the Universities Accord, as well as implemented a migration strategy that has hit student visa approval rates.

It also banned concurrent enrolment and commission for onshore switching in crackdowns on “dodgy” providers, while investing AUS$37.8 million in an integrity unit designed to “weed out” unlawful behaviour in the VET sector.

The migration plan has been heavily criticised by parts of the international education industry, being labelled a “drunken sailor” approach which has led to education providers tell students to withdraw their applications in a bid to protect their institutional risk rating.

It has also implemented higher language requirements for visas.

In the interview, Albanese added that the government wants to lower the number of immigrants Australia receives annually to “about half of what it has been”.

“We are projecting is that the NOM, the net overseas migration, is projected to come down to 250,000 in the coming financial year in 2024/25,” he said.

However, pressed on whether multiculturalism is failing in Australia, Albanese noted that the country “need[s] to make sure that we nurture our multiculturalism”.

Universities Australia highlighted the benefit international students bring to classrooms and communities, “building a bridge between cultures and nations”, as well as their economic impact.

“This revenue benefits all Australians – helping fund pensions, essential infrastructure like hospitals, schools and roads, not to mention the delivery of national priorities such as AUKUS and our shift to a clean energy future,” chief executive officer Luke Sheehy said.

“Any further changes to policy settings that affect our international student intake must be weighed carefully against the very significant benefits these people bring to our nation.”

For Tracy Harris, who heads up consultancy Tracy Harris Solutions and is a well-known sector commentator, the “most unfortunate” part of Australia’s international education sector being caught up in current domestic migration debates is the impact on students.

“The net overseas migration is projected to come down to 250,000 in the coming financial year in 2024/25”

“Students and their families plan for years to come to Australia, and the current visa settings are leaving them bewildered,” she told The PIE.

“At the same time, in a view I have shared prior to this current political debate, I think we need to have a sensible discussion about how many international students is enough.

“If the current Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students cap were to be reached, that would be about 2.5 times the number of international students that were enrolled in January in Australia. That is not sustainable given Australia’s current infrastructure challenges.”

However, Harris noted that the government must be “transparent and consistent” if it wants to manage international student numbers.

“Students need clarity about the visa application process and the sector needs to be able to understand what decisions are being made so that it can adequately plan, not react.

“The frustration for me is that this is not a new debate. This comes up every 10 years, give or take, and we still don’t have a solution,” she added.

CEO of the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, Troy Williams, emphasised a disconnect between the government’s migration strategy and its plan for international education.

“Whereas the former suggests that overseas students wanting to study in Australia should stay home, the latter continues to encourage students to come to Australia,” he told The PIE.

Williams also warned that the approach to onshore international education and a decision to slash international education funding will lead to extensive job losses.

Those losses will be across the skills training and higher education sectors, as well as other industries that support the international education sector such as tourism.

This will all erode the “robust ecosystem that supports high-quality education for international students”, he added.

Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil has not accepted ITECA’s invitation to explain to its members the reasons for current policy, he continued.

“ITECA has invited the minister to meet with our members, to look them in the eye, and explain why these high-quality providers of skills training and higher education to international students need to lay off staff and possibly close their businesses,” he said.

“Australia’s new approach to international education appears increasingly xenophobic”

“It’s disappointing that the minister hasn’t accepted this offer.

“Australia’s new approach to international education appears increasingly xenophobic, abandoning our historical reputation as a welcoming destination for overseas students which is sad,” he said.

“Halving Australia’s international education sector signals a retreat from global engagement, eroding our standing as a hospitable nation and straining vital diplomatic and educational ties with important partners, including India.”

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