“Incompetence, indifference…. or something worse?” is how Australia’s Private Providers describe the Visa system and not without a reason…
The ACPET CEO, Ms Clare Field, in her message dated “today” expressed her disappointment with the treatment of the sector especially from the Department of Immigration. I empathise with this viewpoint. This was the sector that brought dollars to the Australian Education Exports. This was the sector that earned the country the reputation as the destination for vocational education. This was the sector that positioned Australia amongst top three destinations for students from the sub-continent and briefly even as the No.1 destination for fee paying students. When things were good, nobody qualm-ed despite all signals that there was a need to keep tuning the processes and safe-guards to match the trends.
In any business cycle, the boom or the growth phase signals entry of several new operators and this is the time when we need to be cautious. Along-with large number of quality educators, several others who were simply interested in milking the easy regulations also entered in the garb of educators. It is the ease of entry for these very new entrants and also “greed” on part of old that resulted in the crash of the industry and led to a 95% fall in student numbers between 2009 and 2010 from the sub-continent. However, it will be unfair if we didn’t remind on the “greed” on part of the non-Private sector too… Public Universities and several TAFE.
I have always maintained even then that it was not just the private providers who were responsible in the “milking game” but also the public sector institutions. One of the easiest ways of bringing low quality students through easier visa norms was through the use of “packaging the diploma of private providers with the degree of public Universities and in some cases even TAFEs”. Yes, I have always said here too that “several” public sector institutions at that time offered the packaging simply to gain the $1000 or $1500 per COE issued. This was easy money for many institutions even when they knew that the student at the end of the diploma will most probably be not reaching the University at all despite the package. The student would be entitled to apply for the PR and if he does, the $$$ is theirs without needing to teach and without needing to market. At the peak of the period, there were institutions who may have even issued over a thousand COEs of these kinds. And not to forget the COEs where the diploma was in one city and the degree in another. And not to forget the COEs where the diploma was in Cookery and the degree was in Criminology.
Had the public Universities (and some TAFE) not partnered in this dirty packaging, rogue students with low funds would not have managed to sneak under the 573 subclass visa at that time and so the system would not have been compromised.
All this is history of what happened. I am stating it again since this perspective is important. When the tightening took place, the Private Providers were made the scapegoat. Please… I am not saying that the providers were not responsible for the mess. They were. At-least several were. However, they would not have managed to exploit the system if the Universities were not cooperating actively.
I have read the Knight reports and other detailed analysis of the same. The “packaging role of Universities” has only received a passing mention as the system appeared to be in a hurry to find the scapegoat. They did find that in the private providers and so the great story ended and the role of the accomplices was forgotten.
Now see what ACPET CEO says in her message to their members who are private education providers (full text on this link)
For those members with a long memory you’ll recall the ‘heady’ days of January 2012, when the long-awaited Student Visa Assessment Level Framework Review was started by the Department of Immigration. Back then the sector looked forward to a focussed review which would outline how a provider risk-based model for student visas could be extended beyond the university sector.
In March 2012 ACPET and others made contributions to the review, highlighting the importance of equity and fairness in a move from assessing student visa risk with a ‘one-size’ fits all model where the agency accrediting a course (VET, HE, ELICOS, schools) determined risk – to one which recognised a provider’s history and the quality of their offerings.
In August 2012 we were pleased to sit down with the Minister, his Department, other peak bodies and states and territories to review the draft report of the review and consider its recommendations.
We duly gave feedback (within a week) to ensure DIAC would have time to compile the feedback received, provide it to the Minister, and for the machinery of government to move in sufficient time that providers being offered streamlined arrangements would have time to work with DIAC on changes to their business models, in time for Semester One 2013. We had then anticipated the first six months of calendar year 2013 would be spent on:
- working with those ACPET members given the opportunity to opt-in to streamlining,
- supporting those members with large numbers of international students not offered streamlining, to improve their business operations to ensure they could improve their visa compliance rates or educational quality, so that subject to a further review by DIAC they would then be able to opt-in to streamlining, and
- crucially – working with members, other education peak bodies, and DIAC on improved student visa processing arrangements for smaller ACPET members – with an aim to see those smaller providers offered ‘streamlining or equivalent’ measures in time for Semester Two 2013 enrolments.
And yet here we are – nine month after the Minister consulted on his draft report – and we’re still yet to see the final version.
Think about it – it took DIAC eight months to undertake a full review of its student visa assessent level framework, including engaging and consulting with the sector. Then, having received mostly positive feedback from the sector on the draft report, it has now taken nine months and counting to release the final report!
I’ll leave it to you to determine if that’s (further) evidence of incompetence within DIAC or something more deliberate.
What’s indisputable is that while other arms of government, Austrade, Foreign Affairs, and Australian Education International, have released reports and initiatives trying to regrow Australia’s international reputation in international education and we’ve had the report of the Chaney Council and the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century – DIAC is content to do nothing.
That lack of action means further pressure on the non-university sector. Streamlined visa processing is encouraging increased student applications to universities and their partner institutions. The rest of the sector remains in deep decline.
My comment: Please don’t expect anything in time for the second intake of 2013. The intake is already over in terms of marketing and most of the students who have to reach Australia have already lodged their visas in their home countries. If you are hopeful, it will only happen after the elections are over and after a new minister has had time to understand the issues and after and after and after that… Maybe, if we are lucky, we can see a change later this year though I must once again remind that the marketing for the first intake of 2014 takes place in the months of August and September in the sub-continent. Will we have the SVP for Pvt Providers and TAFE by then… I am not so hopeful.
I have already blogged during the last few days that Australia is the only country showing a growth in student numbers from the Indian Sub-continent. This could and will receive a major impetus if SVP is gradually initiated to all sectors of the industry. Of-course with safe-guards for all.
I also feel that there should be ONE VISA SYSTEM for all education options in Australia. The current CASTE SYSTEM needs to end where one sector is the BRAHMIN and the other is the UNTOUCHABLE… Don’t have the sector but if you do, they all should a fair-go.