In 2016, the former Turnbull Government introduced a new visa class that enabled international students and their guardians access to Australian schools, along with the ability to buy property ahead of applying for permanent residency (see here, here and here).
At the time of introduction, I labelled this visa “one of the worst policies that I have ever seen”, because it would worsen already severe over-crowding across schools, make housing less affordable, and would add additional strains to economic and social infrastructure across Australia’s major cities.
Now Australia’s elite private schools are demanding the return of international students for the beginning of the 2021 schools year, claiming they face closures and cutbacks if travel bans are not lifted soon:
In their letter, the principals of 36 schools say the disruption to Victoria’s multibillion-dollar international student market this year poses an “immediate existential challenge” that has left many non-government schools without a “vital revenue stream”…
Some schools face potential closure and significant job losses, if international student enrolments do not recover, the principals say…
The letter also warned about broader challenges as more parents face financial pressures, saying “a decline in domestic enrolments because of COVID-19 will see many schools face immense immediate financial challenges, with closures likely for some”…
The group of principals says that if international programs do not survive, the jobs of academic and support staff are at immediate risk and there will be significant losses at English language schools and accommodation providers…
Signatories include the principals of Geelong Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Methodist Ladies College, Brighton Grammar, St Catherine’s School and Lauriston Girls’ School.
It’s hard to take these claims seriously when government funding for independent schools has grown far quicker than public schools over the past decade, according to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority:
School fees have also grown at nearly twice the rate of inflation over the past decade:
And elite private schools have engaged in a spending “arms race”, as reported recently in the Saturday Paper:
Recent analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that among Sydney’s elite private schools, a billion dollars’ worth of projects are in the pipeline…
“My first response,” says Grattan Institute school education program director Peter Goss, “is, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money!’ ” His second response goes back to the intense competition between high-fee private schools. “It is hard for parents to understand which offer the best academic experience, so they are likely to choose based on what they can see, contributing to an arms race among the wealthiest schools,” he says.
Once upon a time these schools managed just fine educating locals without such extreme funding. Now they tell us that they are on the verge of collapse if denied the money that international students bring in. I call bullshit.
Private schools’ addiction to international students also risks undermining teaching standards, as we have witnessed across Australia’s university sector, in a bid to maximise enrolments and revenue from students with poor English-language proficiency.
You can easily imagine situations where teachers in our classrooms are required to pause repeatedly to explain concepts to non-English speaking students. Or, in the case of Chinese international students, be prohibited from teaching blacklisted western values or other topics sensitive to the Communist Party of China (e.g. Hong Kong, Tibet, or Taiwan).
Is this what Australia’s economy has been reduced to: flogging-off houses and residency to wealthy foreigners while dumbing down the education of our own children? Do we really want foreign political conflicts paralysing debate in our high schools as well?
The answer is obviously a resounding ‘no’.