Hammer falls on international education sector


The Albanese government will present legislation to limit the number of students enrolled in each institution or college.

Under measures announced over the weekend, Labor plans to alter the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to allow the education minister the authority to establish enrolment caps at each institution, including for certain courses or locations.

The legislation will allow providers to exceed those limits, provided they can demonstrate that they have invested in new student housing. However, local councils may make this difficult for inner-city institutions.

The legislation will also implement reforms to improve the integrity and quality of international education, including the power to:

  • Prevent education providers from owning education agent businesses.
  • Pause applications for registration from new international education providers and of new courses from existing providers for periods of up to 12 months.
  • Require new providers seeking registration to demonstrate a track record of quality education delivery to domestic students before they are allowed to recruit international students.
  • Cancel dormant provider registrations to prevent them being used as a market entry tool by unscrupulous actors.
  • Prevent providers under serious regulatory investigation from recruiting new international students.
  • Improve the sharing of data relating to education agents.
  • Prohibit agent commissions on student transfers between providers in Australia to remove incentives for unscrupulous agents and providers to ‘poach’ students.

The education sector is also bracing for budgetary measures such as an increase in non-refundable student visa fees and an increase in the bank balance required of applicants, which is expected to be announced in Tuesday’s federal budget.

The reforms follow two recent increases to the amount of money students must have in their bank when applying for a visa, along with higher English-language requirements.


The latest reforms prompted an urgent meeting on Monday, during which four federal ministers heard from the government’s expert advisory council on international education.

University officials cited National Australia Bank estimates that overseas student expenditure accounted for 0.8% of the 1.5% increase in GDP last year.

“We’re worried that we’re going to have policy overreach where too much, too quick is going to damage Australia’s reputation as a welcoming, safe, world-class study destination”, Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia said.


The vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, Mark Scott, played the bogus export card, stating: “If you send a message to international students that they’re not welcome, they have many other options. This is the number one service export industry in the country”.

Troy Williams, head of the peak group for private education providers, the Independent Tertiary Education Council, is in a full scale panic: “This is horrible on every level. It is really regressive on every level”, he said.

Whereas the migration-loving Greens slammed the “shortsighted and heavy-handed” caps proposal and “extraordinary powers” that will be handed to the education minister to set university enrolment levels.


Labor intends to reduce net overseas migration from 528,000 last year to 260,000 next year, with international students accounting for 50% of migrant numbers.

The measures come as the Albanese government is under intense political pressure to reduce migration in order to manage the growing housing crisis.

I have previously called for caps on international student numbers, along with requiring universities to provide on-site student accommodation in proportion to their foreign student numbers.


I have also sought tighter financial and English-language requirements.

To Labor’s credit, these reforms are a genuine move in the right direction and appear to have teeth.

Let’s hope Labor does not fold like a cheap deck of cards under pressure from the international education lobby.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.