New international student visa measures for Australia
The Australian government has announced new measures to make it easier for international students to obtain visas to study in Australia.
Australia's Immigration Ministry says the process will be made easier by reducing the assessment levels or minimum requirements for foreign students from 29 countries, including India and China.
The move follows recommendations of a review undertaken last year, to address significant falls in international student enrolments in recent years.
Private education providers say the changes don't go far enough.
Correspondent: Girish Sawlani
Speakers: Chris Bowen, Australian Immigration Minister; Sarah Logan, deputy principal, Strathfield College; Ingeborg Loon, Australian Council for Private Education and Training
- SAWLANI: The international education sector is Australia's third largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore. But the $AUD17 billion a year sector has been under threat in recent years- with universities, English language colleges and vocational training institutes reeling from sharp drops in international student enrolments.
2011 saw falls of up to 30 percent, from some of the key source countries. The biggest drop coming from India, following the highly publicised attacks against Indian students. The problem was also exacerbated by the high Aussie dollar, the closure of rogue private education firms, and tough immigration policies, making it harder of students to obtain permanent visas to work in Australia after graduation.
Sarah Logan is the deputy Principal of the Strathfield College, a vocational education and training institute in Sydney
LOGAN: We're back down about 40 per cent and I'm sure every other college listening to this now will probably be thinking something similar and it's really no fault of our own. We've kept the same standards, we maintained our continued improvement processes, and we've been audited. You know we're doing everything right, we're improving all our quality across the board. However, the students are just not there. Now I don't think it is just the visa assessment levels themselves, I do think there are a number of other in this, and that the GFC (global financial crisis) is definitely one of them.
SAWLANI: Those falls prompted a major review undertaken last to address the problem. The review undertaken, by former Olympics Minister Michael Knight, recommended the introduction of two to four year study work visa for students who have graduated, and a significant reduction in the amount of funds students must have in their bank accounts in order to qualify for study visas. Those recommendations were among 41 others that were accepted by the government.
Now the Immigration Ministry has announced it will make it easier for international students to obtain their visas by reducing assessment levels for 29 countries - particularly in the postgraduate sectors, English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) and Vocation Education Training (VET).
Chris Bowen is Australia's Immigration Minister
BOWEN: Well we have 5 levels of assessment and when that level of assessment is reduced, it basically means that an applicant to come to Australia to study needs to provide less information or less substance to their claims. So for example, that we require people to have an amount of money saved to show that they can maintain themselves in Australia. When an assessment level is reduced, that reduces the amount of money that they need to have saved and often reduces the amount of time that it needs to have been saved. So I've announced a reduction in assessment levels, and they vary from country to country. I've announced a reduction for 29 countries and that will be effective on the 24th of March.
SAWLANI: He says while regular reviews recommended that some assessment levels be increased, he decided to only implement the reductions in order to support Australia's international education sector.
BOWEN: I think it's good that more people are able to come and get an education in Australia. It's good for them. It's good for Australia. And it's good for understanding between nations. So I'm always keen to do anything I can to support international student numbers. Certainly I think the reduction in assessment for 29 countries, including large countries like China and India and Indonesia is a positive step forward, which makes Australia an even more attractive destination for potential student.
SAWLANI: While the changes have been welcomed by private education sector, Sarah Logan from Strathfield College says when it comes to vocational education and training or VET, the reduction of assessment levels don't target the major source countries.
LOGAN: It really doesn't show much improvement at all because they're simply targeting countries which are very small markets as it is. They're not targeting large sections of the market, they are China and India and also even Bangladesh and other countries like that. Those visa level assessments haven't changed. In fact they are still at the lowest for ELICOS, for VET. For post grad, yes there have been changes recently. But again it doesn't affect colleges like us and we are a very large player in a very tight market at the moment.
SAWLANI: It's also a view that's being echoed by Ingeborg Loon, she's the international engagement manager at the Australian Council for Private Education and Training.
LOON: If you look at the majority of our members operate in the VET sector and there aren't very many positive changes in the market there. Korea would be one that stands out, postgraduate research has definitely benefitted from this.
SAWLANI: She's also calling on the government to introduce work study visas for VET students.
LOON: There was an amendment made at the end of November where it applied to all non-university higher education providers so that was a big boon for our members. So that has been a positive step. One of the areas that ACPET is lobbying on is to have those post-study work rights extended to the best private and public VET providers.
CONTACT INFOLink Australia
International Student Service Centre
Level 4, 239 George St.
Brisbane QLD 4000, Australia
Phone: 61 7 3220 3644
Fax: 61 7 3220 3655