Addressing the AIEC conference in Adelaide on October 11, minister Jason Clare appealed to delegates to ensure that the reputation of both the sector, as well as the country, is not damaged by unscrupulous operators.
Reiterating recent government announcements made over the previous 18 months, Clare said, “we cannot do this in a vacuum”.
“I want to work with you to ensure that we get this right,” he told delegates.
Since coming into power in May 2022, the Albanese government has revealed a host of policy amendments aimed at securing the integrity of the international education sector.
Changes include capping work hours to 24 hours per week, ending the concurrent loophole and increasing the amount in savings students need to show when applying for visas to $24,000. Most recently, it announced an overhaul of the visa system and a ban on commission for onshore student transfers.
With the Nixon review identifying that some 75% of international students in Australia are using agents when applying for university places, the minister acknowledged the important role of education agents in “helping students to navigate the move from one country to another to study”.
However, he continued, “right now there is very little oversight” and it is a “tough ask” to put the onus on providers to “try and police agents”.
Individuals have been able to come to Australia under the pretext of studying without any intention to learn and agents have been “pocketing hefty and often secret commissions” while helping students to switch providers when onshore, he said.
On top of last week’s announcements, Clare will introduce legislation to amend the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to “strengthen the existing fit and proper person test”.
“Or should I say fit and proper providers,” he added.
As part of that announcement, cross-ownership of businesses will be prevented, and providers will have “greater access to agent performance data such as student completion and visa rejection rates”.
Additionally, government has announced a $37.8m integrity unit featuring a confidential tip-off line for whistle-blowers to report alleged serious noncompliance.
“If we are going to get this right, consultation is key”
“If we are going to get this right, consultation is key,” the minister added.
“I want to work with you on this to make sure that we get it right. To make sure that we achieve the intent of the reform that I just described and that we don’t open the door to new loopholes of marketing payments or commission equivalent payments to related entities or individuals.”
Authorities are also looking to utilise powers as part of ESOS Act to “issue suspension certificates to high risk providers”.
“A suspension certificate would prevent a provider from recruiting international students. That’s a big call. That’s a big step,” he said.
“It’s important that we get this right. This is about protecting the integrity of our international education system. It’s about protecting your good name. And it’s about protecting our reputation worldwide.”
The minister also emphasised opportunities to take Australian education abroad, noting India and Indonesia as “two economic superpowers in the making, both making a big push in education”.
“They’re asking for our help. They’re asking for us to partner with them, and I’m keen for us to be part of that because as I said a moment ago, international education is not just about making money, it’s about making friends,” he said.
Next year, Deakin will mark 30 years in India, RMIT has been in Vietnam for 20 years, and James Cook Uni, Curtin, University of Adelaide, University of Newcastle and Wollongong are all Australian institutions in Singapore.
“There’s an opportunity to do even more”
“There’s an opportunity to do even more,” the minister added.
In November, Clare will travel to India for the second time in 2023, where he will formally open Deakin and Wollongong campuses in Gift City in Gujarat.
“These are the first two universities in the world to be approved to set up a standalone campus in India. I think that shows not only how good our universities are, how respected they are in India and around the world, but also the strength and the depth of the partnership between our two countries,” he told attendees.
“Next month, I’ll also be in Surabaya in Indonesia, where Western Sydney University is intending to open a campus next year.”