The Australian government is considering letting international students jump to the front of the immigration queue, but concerns of a rash of new “visa factory” colleges, similar to those that benefited from the Howard government’s skilled migration policies, are unfounded, say education providers.
In a report released this week, the International Education Advisory Council (IEAC) has proposed a doubling of the bonus points available to would-be migrants with Australian qualifications, that more of Australia’s foreign aid budget be spent on education, and that international students in Australia should be given equal access to hospital treatment and transport concessions.
In the council’s report, IEAC Chairman Michael Chaney said international education, Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, was “on the cusp of embracing a changed global future”, and that an “appropriate focus” on the report’s 35 recommendations could increase overseas student numbers in Australia by 30 per cent, to more than half a million by 2020.
Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen is reported to have said that he expects the government to accept most of the recommendations. Bowen has already adopted the first two: a co-ordinating council of federal and state ministers, and a five-year strategy for the industry.
IEAA president Helen Zimmerman has described the bonus-point proposal for skilled migrants as “sensible” and that it would not revive the past decade’s immigration-driven approach to international education.
Until 2008, overseas students were virtually guaranteed residency in Australia if they graduated with Australian qualifications – even in subjects such as hairdressing and cooking. A huge number of enrolments followed, along with growing concerns about the quality of the courses they attended, their benefit to the Australian economy, and the knock-on effect in terms of jobs for Australian workers.
The new proposal will give would-be residents with Australian qualifications 10 of the 60 points they need before they can apply for skilled migration. Points are also awarded for English-language ability, high-level qualifications and work experience.
“There’s nothing in there which is about using education as a quick pathway to migration,” Ms Zimmerman told reporters, adding that only 5 per cent of colleges had rorted the old migration rules.
Meanwhile, reaction to the IEAC report has been welcomed by education providers.
Peter Jasonides, managing director of the Institute of Tertiary & Higher Education Australia (ITHEA) told Neos Kosmos: “The number of international students has decreased significantly over the last few years due to changes in the Skilled Occupation List. The emphasis should be placed on skills in demand in Australia from a micro-economic as well as a macro-economic perspective.
“Given the income that international students generate, they should be given some incentives, like concession rates on public transport.
“One of the changes that have worked tremendously has been the imposition for graduates to work in their field of study for several years after completion, before they can apply for residency here in Australia.
“This has ensured that overseas tertiary graduates who chose to study a VET sector course, had to be employed in their Australian vocation, not as a stepping-stone to achieve residency, only to leave their Australian vocation and seek recognition of their overseas qualification. This loop-hole has closed.”
Bill Kardamitsis who owned and managed the Australian Institute of Technology and Education (AITE) from 2004 until 2011, said that he welcomed the report and its acceptance by government, but with caution.
“The federal government made huge mistakes in the last five years and managed to destroy the international education sector.
“Not only that, it destroyed many genuine businesses,” said Mr Kardamitsis, whose institute offered federally approved certificates and diploma courses for students in English and trade skills, before its closure in 2011; a closure which he says, was the result of the federal government’s policy changes.
“I believe that the Australian Government has realised its mistake, and is making a huge u-turn,” Mr Kardamitsis told Neos Kosmos.
Roula Tsiolas, CEO of the Melbourne-based Australian Industrial Systems Institute (AISI) says the report’s recommendations are long overdue.
“We have been endlessly waiting on decisions from government and this real action approach will now be greatly appreciated.
“The international education industry has been losing $2 billion a year since the current government introduced measures to tighten international student visa settings. These measures we were assured would strengthen our Industry but only the contrary occurred. The damage was astounding.”
Ms Tsiolas added that with the establishment of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) – the new national regulator for Australia’s vocational education and training organisations, the sector “has the confidence in the existence of quality monitoring of all registered training providers. Thus the negative, indirect relationship presented at times, that education is a quick pathway to migration is not valid.”
AISI’s CEO added that the education industry, “the nation’s largest services export, had been neglected by government long enough.
“Young people deserve the reinstatement of opportunities for them to be globally competitive in areas of great demand which will provide them with great career paths. Australia’s economy deserves better.”