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Australia migration system “not fit for purpose”, say universities

Australia’s migration system is “not fit for purpose” when it comes to encouraging international students to stay and work in the country, Universities Australia has warned. 

Universities Australia described the current system as “overly complex”. Photo: Unsplash.

Universities Australia described the current system as “overly complex”

In a submission to the Universities Accord, a government review of the country’s higher education system, the body said that Australia’s retention of international students has fallen behind competing study destinations, with 16% of international students going on to become permanent residents. 

“We need more of them to remain in Australia after they graduate to complement the skills and talents of our homegrown workforce,” the group wrote. 

Universities Australia blamed the migration system for this “brain drain”, describing the current system as “overly complex” and a deterrent to skilled workers and researchers.  

Among the organisation’s recommendations to the government was the suggestion to remove the genuine temporary entrant visa requirement, which asks prospective international students to prove they intend to return home after their studies. 

The group also said all international students should automatically be granted temporary graduate visas if they meet the course requirements for graduation and relevant character conditions.

Other sector bodies have echoed calls for changes to the migration system, with Independent Higher Education Australia asking for more pathways to permanent residence and suggesting that visa fees should be abolished to drive competitiveness with other countries.

“At the very least Australia could adopt common international practice and only charge fees once an application has been approved,” the group wrote. 

IHEA also recommended that an international agent registration system be introduced to provide protections and “ensure agents are acting in the student interest”. 

The Accords look at the Australian higher education system broadly, including reviewing funding, access, and partnerships with the vocational training sector.

“Each university should also have its own accord” 

Several bodies have called for individual agreements to be made between universities and the government. 

“Each university should also have its own accord, negotiated with an independent expert authority, which would agree targets for its own community and allocate government funding – we call this an Accord of accords,” said Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of Universities. 

“These five-year accords will bring purpose, certainty and accountability to universities, ensuring they have the funding they need to deliver for their community.”

The submissions also focused on research, with the Group of Eight calling for more investment and a national research strategy. 

“The current research system, which relies on international student fee revenue to survive, is unsustainable,” said Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Go8. 

“This is a problem for every Australian. Research is fundamental to our prosperity and national well-being. Most people do not realise how much research drives higher living standards.”

Sheehy said, “The research capability of our universities and their global reach are significant national assets which should be retained and enhanced.”  

Universities have also recently inputted into the government’s ongoing migration system review and a parliamentary inquiry into the international education sector. 

An interim report is expected to be submitted by the Accords panel to Australia’s education minister in June.

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