Higher education providers, the only sector currently benefiting from SVP, have seen the largest increase of enrolments and commencements so far this year, up 53.4% and 42.6% respectively. Compared to March 2013, enrolments and commencements in the higher education sector are up 6.8% and 16.6%.
Meanwhile, the English language sector, which also includes pathway providers that can use SVP privileges of their university partners, has seen growth of 29.5% in enrolments and 30.3% in commencements on March 2013 figures.
“Education institutions have become too reliant on long established major student source countries such as China, India, Korea and Malaysia”
Sue Blundell, executive director of peak body English Australia said in a recent blog post that the statistics might show a “thriving sector” but digging down deeper reveal that growth is not consistent across the industry.
“Too many eggs in one basket is never healthy. Higher education and international education are not synonymous despite the current SVP-driven trend,” she argued.
International education is set to be one of five industries that will drive growth in the Australian economy but Blundell says “that potential will not be optimised if stand-alone ELICOS, private VET and TAFE continue to be constrained and treated in a discriminatory manner”.
Speaking with The PIE News, Phil Honeywood Executive Director of International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), confirmed that Australia is a “two-speed industry” at the moment.
“English language and vocational colleges that do not have any formalised pathway packages with public universities have found it challenging to recruit students without the special streamlined visa provisions,” he conceded.
Honeywood expects that over the next five years, more public TAFE and private education institutions will be granted this “lower risk” visa entitlement.
“However, our projection is that Australia will continue down the path of being primarily a higher education destination – particularly while the post study work entitlement visas are only provided to Bachelor and Higher Degree graduates.”
Student source countries with double digit growth across all sectors include Brazil, Vietnam, Nepal and Thailand.
Honeywood warns that students from some of these markets have in the past struggled with their studies and will often attempt to move between education providers creating concerns for government and other industry stakeholders.
“The flip-side of this situation is that some of our education institutions have become too reliant on long established major student source countries such as China, India, Korea and Malaysia,” he said. “Already we are seeing some levelling off in growth out of China”.
Providers should be seeking students from “green shoot” markets in Latin america, Africa and Asia he says.
“The last time the industry experienced what was seen as ‘unsustainable’ growth we saw a heavy-handed response from the government in terms of policy changes that not only curtailed the growth, but led to a strong decline”
The upward trajectory this year follows double-digit rise in commencements in 2013 inciting concern from both Blundell and Honeywood that the situation could lead to a knee jerk reaction from government.
“When I saw the YTD March growth of 30% for ELICOS student visa holders on top of the 19% growth we saw across all visa types in 2013, my first reaction was ‘Oh no, here we go again!’,” Blundell told The PIE News.
“The last time the industry experienced what was seen as ‘unsustainable’ growth we saw a heavy-handed response from the government in terms of policy changes that not only curtailed the growth, but led to a strong decline.”
After last year’s elections, the new education minister Christopher Pyne has vowed to “rebuild” Australia’s international education sector. One of his first moves in office was to extend SVP, originally introduced to public universities in 2012, to 19 private providers.
The government has since untied burdensome regulation across all sectors but Blundell says educators are still waiting on a response to the Chaney report which was a review of international education as a whole.
“If implemented, some of the key recommendations would create a more cohesive structure and coordinated framework,” she said. “This would enable our industry to achieve its potential which, as the 2013 English Australia figures demonstrate, can easily surpass the previous high point in 2009, whether measured in course weeks, raw numbers or export earnings.”