Abul Rizvi – former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration and one of the architects of Australia’s faux ‘skilled’ migration program – has urged policy makers to tighten international student visa requirements to boost student quality and productivity:
As the government faces pressure to bring overseas students back into the country, if it wants a high-quality education sector it should be wary of those only interested in maximising student numbers and short-term profits…
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, overseas students represented more than 40 per cent of net overseas migration…
Overseas students and temporary graduates who secured permanent residence represented around 25 per cent of the migration program in 2020-21 (see Chart 2). However, this significantly underestimates the number of students who actually secured permanent migration as it does not include students who used other visa types before they secured permanent residence (eg skilled temporary entry, working holiday, visitors, other temporary employment).
If these other visa types are taken into account, the student contribution to the migration program would be closer to 35 per cent…
The public policy risks associated with the overseas student program have remained much the same since the export of education industry started in the mid-1980s. These include:
- Large numbers of students being left in long-term immigration limbo, predominantly because they have undertaken courses that are not in demand…
- Students with inadequate English language skills or general aptitude to do the course they have enrolled in.
- Students with inadequate finances which means they become heavily reliant on employment well beyond the 40 hours per fortnight traditionally allowed (prior to recent changes allowing almost unlimited work rights). This makes students more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse as well as not having sufficient time to study for their course. It also drives down wages and conditions for the low skilled work that students traditionally do (eg if an employer can get a vulnerable overseas student for less than the minimum wage, why employ an Australian who may insist on their rights?).
- Less reputable education providers becoming involved in a race to the bottom as essentially visa factories offering cheap courses with minimal study requirements to enable students to work in low paid jobs for long hours.
- Education providers becoming dependent on students from a narrow range of source countries and are thereby vulnerable to either a fall in demand from that source country or any tightening of student visa regulations.
The pressure on Tudge and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to ignore these risks will be intense given the financial losses the international education industry has suffered during the pandemic and its desperation to recover its losses.
The international education industry… will be baying for student visa requirements to be “streamlined” in the interests of “cutting red tape” and allowing student numbers to increase rapidly.
Historically, that has meant Home Affairs/Immigration devolving student visa requirements for English language and financial capacity testing to education providers, who in turn devolve these to offshore education agents…
Tudge and Hawke must make it clear the government will strongly enforce the range of other protections against the well-known risks to the overseas student program, including strict English language and financial capacity testing.
The government should revert to the 40 hour per fortnight limit on work rights as soon as possible (including stricter enforcement of the requirement). Maintaining the current almost unlimited work rights trashes the reputation of Australia’s international education industry.
If Tudge and Hawke truly believe in a high-quality international education industry, they would be wise to proceed cautiously and avoid the many spruikers and urgers who are only interested in maximising student numbers and short-term profits.
For once I mostly agree with Abul Rizvi. The loud push by vested interests in the edu-migration and business lobbies to ramp-up international student numbers and immigration will pressure the government to lower entry standards. Doing so would be disastrous for the long-run productivity and prosperity of Australia, which hinges upon quality education.
As noted by The Australian’s higher education shill, Tim Dodd:
“Too many of the expanding numbers of students from India and the sub continent were in low quality, generic business courses, and hoping for permanent residency without having in-demand skills”.
Instead of lowering standards even further, Australia’s international education system should target a smaller intake of higher quality students via:
- Raising entry standards (particularly English-language proficiency);
- Raising financial requirements needed to enter Australia; and
- Removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.
These reforms would lift student quality, would raise genuine export revenues per student, would remove competition in the jobs market, and would lower enrolment numbers to sensible and sustainable levels that are more in line with international norms.
They would also help to improve teaching standards and the experience for domestic students, which should be our universities’ number one priority.
In short, international education needs to become a genuine export industry rather than a people importing immigration industry.
We must restore Australia’s universities back to being about ‘higher learning’ rather than ‘higher earning’.
Sadly, we all know these reforms won’t happen. Our policy makers will instead crater entry and teaching standards to entice as many warm bodies to Australia as they can get. The ‘growth lobby’ demands it and pulls the policy strings.
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