AFR (Australian Financial Review) is a credible publication and this article ( by Education Editor Julie Hare needs to be quickly considered and a quick fix by blocking the loophole needs to be actioned.
The headline is concerning but the focus is very timely. It is not just Indian students but also Nepalese students (actually many others) who are using loopholes in the visa system to abandon their courses at established universities to enrol at cheaper private colleges, undermining the student visa that was granted only because of the enrolment at a higher institution. Recruiting Universities that have invested in overseas engagements and their offshore education agents lose out.
Under Australian rules, international students are not allowed to switch provider in the first six months without a compelling reason and a letter of release from their initial institution. They can’t change from a higher education course to vocational education. However, both rules are being widely flouted.
The focus is timely because for the first time the the precise loophole that allows COE to be created has been identified publicly and now it is time to block this. It can quickly be done. Their concern is that colleges are exploiting a loophole in the legislation allowing for two concurrent certificates of enrolment will have “serious consequences for the international education industry”. The rules were changed during the pandemic to allow concurrent certificates of education to be issued. Unscrupulous colleges are issuing second CoEs without having a letter of release from the original recruiting institution. Worse still, they are being issued for study at vocational colleges for lower diplomas after arriving in Australia to study Higher Ed Degrees. Under the rules, students cannot change their level of study to a lower qualification. If found out, it should result in their visas being cancelled.
The article indicates that Rod Jones, chair of Study Perth, and Pankaj Pathak, from Western Australia’s Private Education and Training Industry Association, wrote to members on Thursday that “large numbers of in-coming students … are switching to lower-level [vocational] courses within days of arrival”. “These students are being ‘advised’ to stop attending their primary course or, in many cases, not even beginning their primary course, putting the principal provider at risk of non-compliance,” the pair wrote.
I too have been quoted too where I have differentiated how offshore education agents function differently to onshore migration agents doubling as education agents.
While some say students and unethical agents based in India are gaming the system by enrolling students in low-risk, respected universities to make visa approvals easier and quicker with the full intention of jumping ship once in the country, others claim the problem rests entirely with agents in Australia.
Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Global Reach, a respected Indian student recruitment firm, said offshore education agents “have zero influence on students once they are in Australia”. “It is the onshore migration agents doubling as education agents who get into the act. The movement is often from higher providers to low cost private institutions, who pay higher commission to the onshore migration agents even when no new visa assistance has to be offered,” Mr Singh said. (Quoted in AFR article)
There can be solutions:
- Immediate fix: Quickly block the loophole that allows the second COE to be created as “concurrent” and so a release remains mandatory;
- Medium Term: Link student visas to institutions as in NZ, UK or Canada and so genuine students needing to change providers can lodge student visas onshore again;
- Long term and permanent fix: Prohibit commissions for onshore movement as in USA. Certainly prohibit commission on student movements during the duration of the first visa or for a few years after arrival. Agents receive commission for several services which are not even required by students onshore and migration agents also charge students if a new visa is to be applied. Most students who move onshore have no visa to be lodged. There are private colleges with no hope for their students getting visa from offshore incentivising the onshore agents to poach for them through additional bonuses.
There is a need to also look for “conflict of interest” situations such as when the agent recruiting overseas also has a stake in an onshore RTO where the student is attempting to move once onshore. I am hearing that one such agency is recruiting heavily to Western Australia and then the students find ways to move to their college in Perth.
There is a general perception that it is the Department of Home Affairs that needs to act but I believe that it is the Department of Education that has the quick fix. PRISMS that enables the “concurrent” loophole is managed by Department of Education. The current restrictions on students switching institutions for six months is an ESOS Act provision and this too is under the Department of Education. Time to bell the cat.