Overseas student numbers plummet


Overseas student numbers plummet

INTERNATIONAL student enrolments could drop by as much as 20 per cent next year, costing the economy up to $2 billion, as a consequence of the Rudd government’s “abrupt” tightening of immigration requirements and rising competition from North America and Britain for the lucrative student trade.

Australia’s largest international student recruiter, IDP chief executive Tony Pollock, warned that changes to visa rules and priority skills were being made without giving the industry time to adjust. As a result, student demand had plummeted and the sector’s market standing was at risk.

Mr Pollock said international placements into Australia across IDP’s network were down 37 per cent in April compared with a year ago, with current Indian demand almost wiped out. He said the Australian High Commissioner in India had told his staff there that the number of student visa applications it had on hand had crashed to just 200, compared with 8600 a year ago.

The Australian was unable to verify these numbers with the commission. According to the Department of Immigration, its latest application figures for the nine months to the end of March 31 show that applications from Indian nationals are down 47 per cent at 23,601.

Mr Pollock said further negative fallout was expected as more students were stranded by private college collapses caused by the downturn, and frustration grew among the thousands of students already enrolled in courses that have been culled from the Skilled Occupations List that provides a pathway for permanent residency. “My concern is that the numbers for the next 12 months are going to be severely impacted,” he said.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has tightened visa requirements and refocused on a narrower range of skills to clamp down on rorts and student exploitation.

These included “visa factories” or dodgy courses in areas like hairdressing, cookery and community welfare that were focused solely on permanent residency.

International education is Australia’s third-largest export earner behind coal and iron ore at about $17 billion a year. International student fees have become a key revenue source for universities following declines in government funding, accounting for more than 15 per cent of revenue.

“The government’s desire to clean up the industry is entirely admirable, but they have made the changes so abrupt that there is little time for the kind of structural adjustment that is necessary in any big change of this nature, both for the students and the institutions,” Mr Pollock said.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said the changes to a more “demand-driven” immigration program had been signalled as far back as early 2008.

“The recently announced changes to skilled migration remove incentives for students to seek permanent residence through low-quality education courses, a practice that damaged the integrity of both the migration program and the education industry,” the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Julia Gillard said the sector was well placed to weather the changes.

“The introduction of the new Skilled Occupations List will require a refocusing for some education and training providers, but we believe the market is well placed to continue as a world leader in international education services,” she said.

International students are set to protest against changes to the skills list at a demonstration in Sydney on June 3. So far this year, 15 private colleges have already closed, affecting 3713 students, of which only 57 per cent have been placed at other providers or given refunds.

The latest government figures show international student commencements rose by just 0.3 per cent in the nine months to March, compared with average growth rate over the past eight years of 8.6 per cent. While commencements at universities were up 11.8 per cent, they were down in the vocational and English language sectors that are key feeders for universities.

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