Australia announces review of student visa programme

The sector had come under increasing pressure as a result of the rising value of the Australian dollar, the impact of the global financial crisis abroad and growing competition from the US, New Zealand and Canada for international students, Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said today while announcung the decision.

"The size and nature of the international education sector has also changed dramatically over the past decade and it is critical that we take a whole-of-government approach in responding to these changes," he said.

Former New South Wales Labor politician Michael Knight has been appointed to head up the review and report to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Evans by mid next-year. His task will be to recommend more effective frameworks between key players and requirements for student visa applicants.

"The review will look at ways to better manage immigration risk in the student visa caseload and deter breaches and misuse of the program, as well as consider the suitability of separate visas for different education sectors," Bowen said. "The government is also introducing a package of measures to streamline the visa application process for lower risk cohorts while continuing to uphold the integrity of the programme."

The new measures include reducing visa assessment levels for Chinese and Indian applicants that will kick in as of April next year apart from measure of refining the rules for pre-paid boarding fees so they are counted in cost of living requirements in applications.

Assessment levels are a risk management approach applied to all student visas, determining the amount of evidence visa applicants need to supply and the level of scrutiny with which their claims are assessed. The step has been lauded by the education experts across the country and India.

Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) acting chief executive Clare Field saying the review would provide a welcome opportunity for industry consultation to help stabilise the sector.

According to India-based Ravi Lochan of Global Reach Pty Ltd, students from India have been disadvantaged since 2008 when the country was downgraded to risk assessment level 4 from 3 and this led genuine qualty students being unable to show funds for qualtiy and more expensive institutions.

This led to a spread of dodgy colleges too. Now with the change, Indian students will find it relatively easier to be able to demonstrate funds and seek education at quality providers in Australia.

"This move is with subclass 573 which is higher education sector and so relates to universities. The tafe and vocational providers continue at risk assessment level 4. The government is aiming to make it easier to study at universities and for degrees," he said.

Universities Australia chairman Peter Coaldrake said the review could not be more timely. "Coming as the latest government figures show a clear decline in higher education international student enrolments, after increasing at 11 per cent a year for the past eight years," Coaldrake said.

A perception that Australia was not welcoming or safe was part of the reason behind the decline in numbers, along with the GFC, Universities Australia said.
"The strong Australian dollar is not the sole reason," Coaldrake said.

"This downturn in enrolments has significant implications not just for Australia's higher education system, but also for the nation itself due to the flow-on contribution international students make to domestic employment as well as improving our cultural awareness." 

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