Restrictive student visa system causing a huge drop in international applications to Oz

by Ray Clancy on October 25, 2010

Falling numbers of international students to Australia

The number of international students applying to universities in Australian has fallen dramatically due to a lack of certainty over immigration policies, it is claimed.

An international education conference in Sydney heard that there has been a particular drop in the number of students from India and this may be due to racist motivated attacks in Melbourne but in general numbers are down overall.

Experts said that Australia has fallen from first to third place on a list of preferred university destinations for India’s aspiring middle class students, behind the US and the UK and recent chances to Australian immigration policies is making it harder for the country to rebuild its reputation.

While the number of Indian students studying overseas hasn’t declined, the numbers of these students in Australia has, from over 100,000 last year to just 29,000 currently and only 11,000 of those are in university courses.

Tony Pollack, executive director of IDP Education, said their research shows Australian education is still highly valued but it continues to suffer from confusion around Australian Visas as vocational courses no longer lead to the possibility of permanent residency.

‘There’s perhaps anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 students and ex-students in limbo in Australia at the moment. Their visa status is only temporary and it seems unlikely they will be able to achieve the outcomes they were hoping for which is to be able to get work experience in Australia or to apply for permanent residency because of the way the rules have reframed,’ Pollack said.

He explained that the government needed to make it clear how they are going to deal with Australian student visa holders during the transition and what the new requirements are. ‘We still haven’t got clarity around the requirements for skilled and professional immigration. This of course has been due to the election but the election has been and gone, it’s time to get this sorted out,’ he said.

Others told the conference that a new requirement for students to have large sums of money in the bank in order to fund their stay in Australia is also putting them off. They are encouraging the government to loosen restrictions to allow them to compete with less restrictive student visa regimes in the UK and the US.

With a heavy reliance on international student fees, Australian universities have faced significant budget shortages as enrolments have dropped.

‘We are the only country in the world that’s having this sharp fall, which tells you that whatever the factors are that are driving it they’re about what we do in Australia,’ said Glyn Davis, vice chancellor of Melbourne University.

Monash University has already announced sweeping budget cuts, with 300 staff made redundant because of an expected 10% drop in international student revenue in 2011.

Davis added that jobs would be lost across Australia if the government did not act. ‘Everyone in this city, in every other city, who runs accommodation, who runs a restaurant, who sells books, is involved. So there are families far removed from the university sector who will find themselves losing out,’ he said.

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