Sonya Singh, founder and CEO of consultants SIEC Pty Ltd, said that recent moves on visa rejections from certain areas and post-study work rights have confused both students and agents.
“On one hand it is considered to be a crime to talk about migration outcomes. On the other hand, there is this expectation that a student provides a perfect statement of purpose,” Singh told delegates during The PIE Live Australia.
That statement of purpose, or genuine interim requirement, is a letter which applicants to student visas must write to show they are temporarily going to Australia to “gain a quality education”.
“A student is not interested in sharing his thoughts or views, they are more interested in the visa. So the statement of purpose is put in with the perception, ‘will I get a visa if I put this in?’
“As soon as they put in that, ‘I’d be looking towards part time work to support a part of my living expenses’, or that ‘I’d be looking at for study-work rights leading to migration’, they almost become criminals and the visa is rejected,” Singh explained.
She went on to posit that Australia is losing market share, and that work needs to be done to “address the transparency issues around messaging”, especially surrounding how Indian international students are perceived in the country.
“When some Australian universities said that they will not accept students from a certain region – again, you’ve divided Indians too. Why were those regions actually segregated? The ironic fact is that 80% of students come from those regions,” she noted.
“As agencies representing Australia, it becomes very hard for us to justify this messaging.”
On the panel, which delved into the idea of the “immigration tightrope” and balancing “policy and politics”, Ethan Fogarty, senior manager of government relations at Navitas, said that there was a clear intent to change things from the government.
“As agencies representing Australia, it becomes very hard for us to justify this messaging”
“What we’ve seen at the moment is that there’s a desire to change that genuine temporary interim requirement to a genuine student requirement. I think the challenge now for the government and the sector is how does it play out in the market?
“We won’t see the detail of that yet, but how do we make sure that the attractiveness and that sense of welcoming of Australia isn’t negatively impacted by it, but ideally is positively impacted by it as well?”
Phil Honeywood, chief executive at IEAA, confirmed a working group on the issue was being put together by invitation of Australia’s home affairs department in mid-July.
“Each peak body [in Australian higher education] is putting one person into this working group, to work with home affairs to design a new genuine student test.
“At least this way, we are working with the department, rather than the department telling us what’s going to happen,” Honeywood noted.
Amid an increasing connection between migration to Australia and international education itself, EduGrowth’s David Linke insisted that the narrative would need to change if perceptions of the country’s education system were to change.
“People coming onshore clearly come from multiple reasons and migration is not purely the main driver – the acting CEO of Study Gold Coast [Jeanine Tax] talked about how every second or third Uber that you get into has a vocational education student as a driver.
“If the story of Australian education is that we can help you get a visa, then I think we’re doing [it] an injustice”
“I wonder whether that’s the migration story that we want to propel – if the story of Australian education is that we can help you get a visa, then I think we’re doing an injustice to the country’s education story and I’d like to see us talk more about that, and modality is part of it,” Linke insisted.
Honeywood, however, made the “pragmatic” justification that Australia’s labour shortages could be helped by international students – at least, temporarily.
His home state of Victoria, he said, relies on international education more than any other industry.
“Young Australians will not do the jobs today international students are willing to do, and we’ve got a record low unemployment rate.
“We’ve got to rely on temporary labour and we don’t want our students to be a labour force or labour hire – but if the fact that they can be employed part time is a means of persuading the government that we need to have quality students, but not close the door on numbers, then let’s use every lead we’ve got to ensure that happens,” he suggested.