The March ending data is now available and it indicates that in the 9 months period (July 2010 to March 2011), only about 2200 Indian students entered Australia indicating a fall of 93+% for Vocational Sector (6870 to 465) and 65+% for Higher Education (4637 to 1586).
If we pro-rata approximate the 9 month data to a 12 month total, we can expect less than 3000 student visas to Australia between July 2010 and June 2011. This is about 5% of what we had two years ago and hence we can say that the Australian bound yearly student numbers has fallen about 95% over the last two years. This time please spare me the attempt in confusion through spun enrollment statistics. I am aware that there is a spurt in onshore student visas due to the fact that students are switching between programs resulting from migration regulation changes and other reasons but the end fact remains that entry into the tunnel is down by 95% since 2008-2009.
I am aware that the Student Visa Program Review is current ongoing and am sure that Hon Michael Knight will go through the various submissions including the submission made by me on behalf of the Indian Education Agents. Most of the submissions seem to be saying the same things and am sure that a medium term approach will result from the review into recommendations for the government to accept or refuse.
It is a time consuming exercise and often one that is academic with pros and cons and one that will take time to show its desired result. It is also not immune to impacts of changing wisdoms of the political parties in power.
Here I am talking of immediate short-term solutions that can help revive the industry. If we do-not take the short term measures, we will not be left to call ours an industry at all. It’s a kinda SOS.
- The AL change request was an SOS made over one year ago, it was implemented only from this April but unfortunately, the high forex rate kicked in by then and the much lost momentum couldn’t be regained. The AL change failed to excite the market. However, this has been a major stumbling block cleared, finally.
- The acceptance of alternative english tests and end to monopoly of IELTS was an SOS made 3-4 years ago and has finally been announced only last week. This is more of a psychological victory for all of us who have been arguing for it for years. Another welcome signal for sure but too late.
- The action to dismantling the packaging loophole was a suggestion made two years ago as it was one of the key modalities for abuse of the student visa framework. This was completely denied at the first instance including an attempt of “shooting the messenger” and was only acknowledged last year, albeit late.
- The fact that University Pathway diplomas are not vocational diplomas and hence should be treated along-with the Higher Education subclass was also one of the earlier suggestions at the time when packaging was being discussed. It has now finally been recognized as such.
Its clear that the above are right steps but made late, a little too late. I fear that the student visa program review will come up with recommendations that are going to have only a long term impact. There is a need for some fire-fighting at this time and am going to make some prescriptive suggestions. If accepted, it will definitely wake up the market, keep the institutions busy and also avoid un-employment even in India and in Australia.
Critical Step 1: Offer subclass 485 to 1 and 1.5 year PG/Masters Degrees.
It is a fact that the current forex rate makes education in Australia as an expensive proposition. Most of the Universities in Australia used to offer 1 year and 1.5 year Masters degrees in the past but over the years the demand was only for 2 years degrees and hence the Universities too started focussing on them. The reason for the demand was that the Post Study Work possibilities was either through additional points for 2 years degrees or because the subclass 485 visa was awarded to students who had studied for a minimum of 2 years. Times have changed now. Popularity of UK was largely due to the post study work being open to their 1 years Masters students. NZ allows post study work to their 1 year graduates too. The same applies even to Canada and US. At the same time, a lot more of the students are returning to add value after putting a few years into workplace and are not able to take full two years out of their work for further study.
Its very difficult for students to show funding for 2 years Masters degrees when they can get an equivalent deal elsewhere in the world with 1 or 1.5 years degrees.
If subclass 485 can be applicable to all complete qualifications of 1 years or 1.5 years at Post Graduate level, we can be assured that this will make Australian education more accessible to larger number of students worldwide and visas will also become easier. All this without compromising on the quality or integrity.
Step 2: Allow spouse to accompany students for PG courses of “1 year” duration.
All international students irrespective of the duration of the program has to demonstrate the funding to cover the cost of the spouse. Even if the program of study is for 1 year and even when the current rules donot allow the spouse and dependents to accompany the students on the 1 year programs.
This, if altered immediately, can be of great help. Students going on 1 year programs can demonstrate the funds for the spouse and have them accompany the student. This is in no way compromising on any quality or integrity but makes Australian education more accessible.
Step 3: Students who prepay the fees may be exempt from demonstrating the source of the funds.
My understanding is that in practice, several visa officers only want to see the funds indicated on the eCOE and tend to deduct the prepaid fees. Make it a full policy and this will once again allow students to even pay full one year fees upfront and then only demonstrate living costs. Honestly, I was going through the regulations to find that it is already allowed for certain students. Just make it a policy and institutions need to cooperate.
The above three can be the short term changes. We do hope that the current ongoing student visa program review will recommend a rationalizing of the living costs that have to be demonstrated. It needs to be at the minimum level and not at the current generous levels. it also needs to differ between Sydney/Melbourne and other cities. There is also a hope that subclass 485 will be modified on lines of the Post Study Work options in Canada as Canadian model has been referred to in several of the submissions.
I am sure that even while the review is ongoing, Australia can make some of the above changes to enable the country remain a destination for international students even if it is not “the” destination.