Protecting The Reputation Of International Education

National Monday Update – 06 May 2019
Troy Williams, ACPET Chief Executive

This week, the reputation of Australia’s international education exports will come into question as the ABC television Four Corners program focuses on a select number of public universities that have allegedly waived English entry standards in order to grow.  It’s a debate that the nation needs to have but will provide an unwelcome focus on students visa in the middle of a heated federal election campaign.

From the outset, it needs to be stated that the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) supports those requirements, set by government and providers themselves, which set high standards for course entry.  Put simply, ACPET believes that both public and independent providers should select only academically capable students.  In no circumstances should standards be waived simply to boost enrolment numbers.  This approach is fundamental to maintaining the reputation of Australia’s international education exports.

Policy makers and the general public often fail to fully appreciate the economic impact of education exports.  Education exports rank only behind iron and coal in terms of value with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, showing that international education earned the nation $32.4 billion in FY2017-18.  The enrolment data is impressive with the February 2019 sector noting the following enrolments:

  • Higher Education – 324,161 (56%)
  • Vocational Education & Training – 151,841 (26%)
  • English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students – 60,444 (10%)

Five countries are responsible for 58% of the international student intake, these being China (30%), India (14%), Nepal (7%), Malaysia (4%) and Vietnam (4%).  ACPET’s direct engagement with these markets show they are sensitive to issues surrounding quality.

The ABC Four Corners program has obtained documentation from several universities advertising “English waivers” to agents who recruit international students.    This is concerning as such an approach undermines not only the reputation of Australia’s international education export market, but also the underpinning student visa system.

During the course of the election, some commentators have argued for large and sustained cuts to Australia’s international student visa program and sadly the debate on waiving the English language requirement serves only to support such calls.  This outcome would threaten the employment of many Australians.  Last December, the Department of Education and Training estimated that the full-time equivalent jobs supported by international education in Australia  reached 241,783 in 2017, a figure that grew by 3.0% over the year.

ACPET will continue its work with independent providers in the higher education, vocational education and training sectors to maintain the reputation of Australia’s international education sector.  It’s supported by activities, as recent as this week, with the Department of Home Affairs to strengthen the integrity of the student visa system.

Finally, the federal election isn’t the only poll on the minds of so many in the education sector.  Last week our membership unanimously endorsed the vote to approve the transition from ACPET the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA).  This establishes one unified, informed and influential body for independent providers in the higher education, vocational education and training sectors which will be launched later this month.


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