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Australia: sector and students back work cap

The majority of international students, graduate and education stakeholders in Australia are behind the government’s decision to reintroduce a work cap for students, research has shown.

Some 73% of student respondents said a work cap should be reintroduced. Photo: pexels

The survey also asked stakeholders about the top challenges to providing support to students

The survey of more than 6,000 international students, graduates, education providers and stakeholders found that the length of preferred work allowance varies across students, graduates and providers.

Until July of this year, there is no limit on the number of hours international students can work. From then, a 48-hour per fortnight cap will be reintroduced.

Among the 3,466 students surveyed, a 40-hour work allowance per fortnight was the preferred option, graduates selected 30 or 40 hours and providers and stakeholders said 30 was the best.

The graduate survey garnered some 1,752 responses, while close to 1,000 stakeholders responded.

“The majority of international students, graduates and stakeholders think that it is important to put the cap back,” researcher Ly Tran said during a recent webinar.

“Providers and stakeholders are on a more protective side. They think that 30 hours should be reasonable, followed by 20 hours. We can see [they are] more cautious,” she said.

Education providers have previously urged the government to allow study-related work experience not to be included in the work hour limit.

In-depth interviews with 40 stakeholders also echoed the key findings, Tran added.

“Education providers and graduates have seen first-hand or experienced the serious consequences of prioritising work over study on students’ academic progress and wellbeing,” she told The PIE.

“Interviews with program directors indicated that one of the most common reasons for course failure for international students since the removal of work hour restriction is over-work,” she explained.

If students can work unlimited hours, many will choose to do so rather than prioritising preparation for exams, she said.

On full-time study programs, international students are expected to dedicate around 9 to 10 hours per subject and 36 to 40 hours for four subjects during the semester.

“Around two days or 15 hours for work per week or 30 hours per fortnight should be the right amount of work hours, which probably explains why 30 hours per fortnight is the most chosen option for education providers and stakeholders in the surveys,” she said.

“If there was no cap, a lot of parents could expect their children to work more”

The regulation on work hours will also help students to improve their time management skills and will also mitigate exploitation risks, especially as employers can expect them to work more shifts and the students can’t decline, she added.

“Many students, especially undergraduate students, might not be good at time management skills so a cap on work hours is needed to keep work-study-life balance. Support service staff indicated that many students come to seek advice on time management,” Tran continued.

“If there was no cap, a lot of parents could expect their children to work more and subsidise their studies,” she detailed during the webinar.


The survey also asked stakeholders about the top challenges to providing support to students.

Providing English language skill support, helping students deal with racism and discrimination, mental health and wellbeing support, finding work opportunities and adjusting to teaching and learning were the most commonly mentioned challenging support areas.

The research project was funded by the Australian Government through the International Education Innovation Fund.

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