International student visa applications to Australia on downward spiral

International student visa applications to Australia on downward spiral

Smaller universities and private Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers expect to be hardest hit because of their greater reliance on students from India and Nepal.   Applications from Nepal dropped 61 per cent and those from India by 47 per cent last financial year, putting further pressure on Australia’s $40 billion a year international student sector amid COVID-19 restrictions.  

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Proposed changes to the education sector will give students options to combine vocational and university studies

The recently released review of the Australian Qualifications Framework by Professor Peter Noonan has recommended an overhaul of the system which oversees qualifications in Australia’s higher and vocational education sectors.

International students gush through visa system holes

Over the past few years, multiple examples have come to light highlighting the rorting of Australia’s visa system by international students.

First, the surge in temporary bridging visas – from 107,191 in 2014 to 229,242 in 2019 – has been driven overwhelmingly by international students appealing their migration decisions en masse to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in a bid to extend their stays:

Victorian Liberal MP Jason Wood, the chair of the joint standing committee on migration, said the backlog of cases at the AAT was “outrageous” and argued that the appeals process was “working in favour of the visa holder and not necessarily the Australian taxpayer”. He said foreign students could game the system to extend their stay by several years — an outcome which he said would deny Australian citizens more part time jobs.

Indeed, Chinese students drove an absurd 311% increase in asylum seeker claims, according to The ABC:

The number of Chinese nationals applying for refugee asylum in Australia has risen by 311 per cent in just one year, according to figures from the Department of Home Affairs…

Refugee Council of Australia director of policy Joyce Chia told the ABC the number of student visas had increased with the booming international student industry in Australia… Many claimants are arriving on temporary migrant visas such as international student visas…

Associate professor of law at Murdoch University Mary Anne Kenny said… “Once you are in the country, either as a tourist or a student, if you then apply for a protection visa, you are eligible for a bridging visa… It doesn’t cost very much to make an application and you can then extend your period of stay here”…

Experts say the significant number of appealing applicants who do not show up to hearings raises further concerns that the process is being abused by fraudulent claims in a bid by some visa holders to extend their stay…

The average time the AAT took to decide migration cases was about a year, allowing students who had a visa cancelled or expired to extend their stay by appealing.

If unsuccessful they could then apply for a protection visa, which took an average time of about eight months to be decided…

Associate professor Anne Kenny said it was possible the number of false claims was rising because word was spreading among temporary visa arrivals of the success of others in lengthening their stay.

Second, regional migration schemes have been systemically reported, especially by international students from the Indian Sub-Continent.

For example, last year it was revealed that students from the Sub-Continent were using state-based migration programs in Tasmania and the ACT as a way to gain backdoor permanent residency into Sydney and Melbourne.

The rorting was endemic in the ACT, where large numbers of international students flooded into the Territory to study at private colleges for one year and gain permanent residency:

“When the subclass 190 visa popped up, the students started streaming in,” Min Gurung, marketing and sales manager from JP International College, in Mawson said. The college experienced an increase of 300-400 students in the past year, with many students moving to the ACT with their partners and young families…

Unity College in Belconnen experienced an almost two-fold increase in its student numbers to about 50…

Some operators of the colleges are reluctant to speak out, with one reporting his institution had about 100 students before July last year. In the past year, that number grew to about 300 students…

It’s believed up to eight colleges have opened in the past year and more applications could be in the works…

Yesterday, Fairfax reported more rorting, with international students fraudulently paying a foreigner for fabricated work histories and prerequisite English-language results in order to obtain the Cert III in Security:

Victoria Police sent suspension letters last week to about 400 guards working across the security industry over allegations that “false, forged and/or fraudulently obtained documentation” was used to obtain their security licences…

Industry sources say many of the guards were on international student visas… they are said to have paid hundreds of dollars to a man police are now trying to locate who allegedly helped them falsify applications… It is understood that person, who sources believe has since fled the country, now forms part of the police investigation…

“It’s become a joke really. You’ve got registered training organisations churning out graduates who can’t even use a radio, let alone defuse a dangerous situation.

“And a lot of the foreign blokes don’t have any English [language skills], which makes it hard for them to deal with crowds,” [a security insider] said.

None of this should be surprising. Cheating on English-language tests and university courses is widespread among international students. So rorting Australia’s visa system is to be expected.

International students boost jobs and business

Foreign students studying in Australia spent more than AU$35 billion (US$24 billion) last year on tourism, food, travel and housing. The huge expenditure by students also supported more than 240,000 local jobs and countless small and family businesses across the nation.

A release of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that the value of international education exports to the national economy rose from AU$30.8 billion in 2017 to AU$35.8 billion in 2018 – a 16% increase.

All the states and territories in Australia experienced an increase in spending by international students.

Almost 600,000 foreigners are studying in Australian universities, colleges and schools in 2019, a 12% rise on the previous year.

Some 360,000 of the students, 56% of the total, are enrolled in higher education courses, 25% in vocational education colleges and 19% in English language colleges and schools.

Education-related travel by the students and their relatives contributed AU$13.1 billion and AU$11.8 billion to the New South Wales and the Victorian economies respectively.

Student spending also injected AU$5 billion into the Queensland economy, AU$1.8 billion into South Australia, and AU$1.9 billion for Western Australia.

Heavy reliance on China

The heavy reliance on China by Australian education institutions, however, is revealed in the figures.

Almost a third of overseas students are from China and 15% from India. Other Asian nations sending significant numbers include Nepal, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Although these top five countries provide 59% of all foreign enrolments, the remainder are drawn from almost 190 other nations, including Britain, Europe and North America.

According to OECD data, nearly five million students are now enrolled in university-level education outside their home country.

Australia, Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand and Austria have, in descending order, the highest percentages of international students as a proportion of the student body enrolled in their higher education institutions.

Asian students represent 53% of foreigners enrolled worldwide, with the largest numbers from China, India and South Korea.

Countries in the OECD receive more international students than they send abroad for tertiary education. Almost three times as many foreign students are enrolled in tertiary education in OECD countries as there are OECD citizens studying abroad.

Six-fold increase worldwide

Over the past 45 years, the number of students taking higher education courses outside their own country has risen dramatically, from 800,000 worldwide in the mid-1970s to an estimated five million in 2019, a more than six-fold increase.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said international alumni were also “a vast global network of informal ambassadors and advocates for Australia”.

“Not only does international education boost domestic travel, goods and services across our economy, but these students strengthen our links with our region and the world,” Jackson said.

“Australians understand the value of this contribution, both economically and to our long-lasting cultural and diplomatic ties.”

She said international student satisfaction was high, with nearly nine in 10 saying they were happy with the quality of education and the lifestyle we have to offer.

“International students can go anywhere in the world to study. They choose Australia because of our strong track record of a world-class education and a safe and welcoming environment,” Jackson said.

South Australia launches $6 million international education strategy


The South Australian Government has launched a 10-year International Education Strategy, with an initial four-year investment of $6.25 million, with the intention of delivering “a suite of education initiatives with an international focus” to public pre-schools and schools across the state.

The investment will see students across both pre-school and primary school benefit from up to $800,000 in scholarships for “immersive international and intercultural experiences,” which includes overseas study tours for those in secondary education.

$1.6 million of the allocation is earmarked for the Internationalising Schools Fund, which will be established to offer tailored packages of support for up to twenty schools with “less experience” of hosting international students. The packages will provide schools with supports such as teacher training, release time to work with school communities developing homestay options and investment to build partnerships with sister-schools overseas.

Mentor schools with international education experience will each receive $10,000 to support them to share their knowledge with other schools and provide further professional development opportunities to staff.

Other measures include the tools and resources that support educators to teach intercultural components of the curriculum, as well as support to maximise sister-school relationships. The strategy bolsters existing work in pre-schools and schools to embed international learning and supports sustainable volumes of international student enrolments across the state.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education in South Australia said the investment reflects the state’s understanding that children are “the next generation of leaders, problem solvers and entrepreneurs who will innovate and start businesses that are connected to the world”.

By welcoming international students, and encouraging a greater global perspective, the spokesperson said, South Australia will be able to offer “unique opportunities for enriching intercultural understanding, learning and the curriculum”.

The initiatives in the strategy will be implemented in a staged approach and will be evaluated over the life of the 10-year strategy. The strategy may be viewed in full here.

Aussie universities pivot to failing Indian international students

Yesterday, The Australian reported official data from the Department of Home Affairs showing that visa applications from Chinese students were flattening, forcing Australia’s universities to shift their focus to lower quality students from India and Nepal.

The economic activity arising from these three source countries is nicely encapsulated by the ABC below:

As shown above, international students from China, India and Nepal have each experienced explosive growth. However, there is a huge difference in the quality of these students.

Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) released a detailed study late last year showing that Chinese students tend to pay higher fees and study at higher quality Group of Eight (GoE) Universities, whereas Indian students typically study at cheaper institutions, often for the primary purpose of gaining access to employment and future permanent residency:

The first comprises universities charging very high fees – $40,000 or more a year by 2018. These are primarily the Group of 8 universities. Despite the princely cost, the number of overseas-student commencements at Go8 universities increased massively, by 56 per cent, between 2012 and 2016. Almost all of this increase came from Chinese students…

The second market covers universities other than those in the Go8, all of whom charge much lower (though still high) fees of around $25,000 per year. Overseas-student commencements in these universities increased by 41 per cent over the years 2012 to 2016. Most of this growth came from countries located in the Indian subcontinent, particularly India itself.

We show that the surge of enrolments in this second market has been largely due to the Australian government’s opening up of these opportunities in 2012 (pages 16-17). A key initiative was to allow all overseas student graduates (including those completing two-year Masters-by-Coursework degrees) to gain access to a work-study visa. This provides a minimum of two years in the Australian labour market after completion of a university degree, regardless of field of study.

Yet, despite Chinese students tending to pay more and attending higher quality Go8 universities, those that do stay and work in Australia perform poorly in the jobs market when compared against their Australian-born counterparts:

Chinese students who do stay on in Australia after graduation and enter the job market find it difficult to obtain employment at the professional or managerial levels. Employers expect their appointees to have complex problem solving, collaboration and communication skills. Many Chinese graduates lack these skills and thus struggle to compete with local graduates and with graduates from English-Speaking-Background (ESB) countries.

Data from the 2016 Census documents this point. Table 4 shows employment outcomes for young China-born males (aged 25-34) in Australia as of 2016, who arrived here between 2006 to 2016 and who held qualifications at degree level or above in Management and Commerce. Only 34.1 per cent were employed as managers or professionals. The outcome was similar for those with Engineering degrees, though a bit better for IT graduates.

Table 4 also indicates that a high proportion (some 31.4 per cent of those with management and commerce qualifications) were unemployed or not in the workforce. This is why we chose to focus on males. The high share of those not in the workforce category is unlikely to be explained by child care responsibilities.

True, it is not just a problem for the Chinese. Most graduates from non-English-speaking background (NESB) countries in business and commerce, engineering, and IT fields struggle to find professional level appointments in these fields. This is because there is a serious oversupply of entry-level candidates, relative to the available job openings.

So, if Chinese students tend to have low standards, what does this mean for our universities’ pivot towards students from India and Nepal?

Monday’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student trade was especially damning of the quality of students coming from the Indian sub-continent, reporting widespread instances of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and students failing their courses.  The below email to colleagues from Murdoch University’s Professor Benjamin Reilly encapsulates the problems:

“In semester one 2018 we experienced a surge in new international students into some postgraduate courses. This surge increased sharply in semester two 2018, with several hundred new students, mostly from the Punjab region of India, enrolling in a small number of postgraduate courses.

“While some were OK, many do not have the language skills to study at a postgraduate level and have thus been unable to participate in class or complete assessments for the units legitimately.

“Hence we now have a much larger number of academic misconduct issues, supplementary assessments and outright failures than we have previously experienced in the units in which this cohort has enrolled”…

As does correspondence from Dr Duncan Farrow, a maths lecturer and academic misconduct investigator:

“Perhaps the most telling statistic of them all: 48 of the 80 students admitted to the MIT in semester one this year had at least one academic misconduct finding against them,” he wrote.

“Not only was there a huge increase in numbers of misconduct cases but additionally the investigations were more difficult due to the poor language capabilities of many of the students involved.

“I have just reviewed the results for students from the Punjab region in BSC100 Building Blocks for Science Students and it is depressing. Of the 52 students in this category, 12 have passed the unit outright — a pass rate of less than 25 per cent.

Inside Story’s economics correspondent, Tim Colebatch, similarly raised the alarm on the torrent of low quality Nepalese students inundating Australia’s universities:

…one source stands out: the little Himalayan country of Nepal, just thirty million people, living in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

In 2017–18, one in every 1500 inhabitants of Nepal emigrated to Australia. In an era of strict immigration controls, that is an astonishing number for two countries so far apart, with no common language, heritage or ethnicity.

Over the five years to mid 2018, one in every 500 Nepalis emigrated to Australia — and that’s in net terms, after deducting those who returned. In 2017–18, little Nepal became Australia’s third largest source of migrants after India and China…

Deregulation has allowed universities to selectively lower their standards to bring in more fee-paying foreign students, even when they fail to meet the thresholds for English language skills or academic achievement…

This is not the first time immigration from Nepal has surged. A decade ago, we saw a scam with training visas, in which “students” from India and Nepal came for training courses in Australia, then quickly vanished into the workforce. The scam saw net immigration set record levels in 2008–09, before then immigration minister Chris Evans shut it down. But most of those who came stayed on here.

At the current pace of immigration, Australia will soon have more residents born in Nepal than in Greece.

The aggressive growth in international students has already unambiguously lowered university standards, flooded Australia’s labour market with cheap exploitative labour, as well as helped crush-load Australia’s cities.

The situation is likely to worsen as Australia’s universities pivot to lower quality students from India and Nepal in a desperate attempt to keep the fees rolling in.