THE Abbott government yesterday moved to loosen visa restrictions to attract international students, prompting calls for increased funding for regulators to ensure there was no return to the “visa factory” that marked the height of the 2008-09 higher education boom.
From next year, tougher restrictions on students from countries with the highest risk of visa fraud will be scrapped, effectively reducing the cash such applicants are required to have in the bank to support themselves during their study.
The government has also fast-tracked a decision to extend streamlined visa processing beyond the university sector to 22 TAFEs and private providers that deliver bachelor degrees and higher qualifications.
The government wants to boost international student revenue from about $15 billion last year back to the former peak of almost $19bn. “The changes will assist all providers, but particularly the vocational education and training sector, making access to Australia’s education system more attractive for overseas students,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.
TAFE Directors Australia’s head of international engagement Peter Holden welcomed the move, noting that the previous Labor government had not acted on a vow to extend streamlined processing, instead sitting on a decision for 18 months.
Mr Holden said he was disappointed that it remained limited to bachelor degree- and higher-qualification students, noting that public TAFEs should be trusted to monitor students doing sub-degree programs.
He said the loosening of restrictions should be matched by more resources for the Australian Skills Quality Authority to adequately monitor the sector. “We would be looking to ASQA to maintain, if not increase their surveillance.” Phil Honeywood, head of the International Education Association of Australia, also urged the government to extend the streamlined system to reputable vocational providers offering diplomas and certificates.
He was confident that scrutiny on degree-granting providers was sufficient, but extending streamlined processing to students undertaking diplomas and certificates would need to be backed by sufficient monitoring.
Adrian McCoomb, head of the Council of Private Higher Education, was delighted, saying that under Labor it had been a “debacle” trying to get approval for private providers to compete for international students on equal terms with universities.
Opposition higher education spokesman Kim Carr said the government should be cautious. “The advice provided to me during my time as minister was that the quality of the companies operating in this area varied considerably and that unsustainable levels of international students can lead to further questions about the quality of education.”
Source: ANDREW TROUNSON, THE AUSTRALIAN OCTOBER 30, 2013