Regulator: International students “vulnerable” to dodgy agents

Yesterday, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) released its strategic review into international education, entitled Protecting the quality of international VET and English language education, which documents the explosive growth in international student enrolments along with a number of shortcomings in the tertiary education system.

First, the report notes the explosive growth in international students numbers across the various tertiary sectors, which has been concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne:

In 2018, there were more than 875,000 enrolments generated by almost 700,000 full-fee paying overseas students in Australia, across all education sectors. This represents a 10 per cent increase on 2017 and compares with an average annual enrolment growth rate of almost 11 per cent annually over the preceding five years. The majority of overseas students were enrolled in higher education courses, with China and India the top two source countries.

Overseas student growth has been strongest in the higher education and VET sectors in recent years, as shown by Figure 5. The largest volume of enrolments and commencements in 2018 were in higher education (45 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively) followed by VET (30 per cent and 30 per cent), ELICOS (18 per cent and 24 per cent) and the non-award sector (six per cent and eight per cent)…

The distribution of overseas students, and resulting economic activity, is concentrated in New South Wales which recorded 38 per cent of enrolments, followed by Victoria with 32 per cent… In 2018, 97 per cent of overseas students studied in a major city with the majority of these students studying in Sydney and Melbourne…

The fastest growing market for VET in 2018 was Nepal, with a 108 per cent growth rate from 2017. Myanmar was the next fastest growing market with a 58 per cent growth rate, followed by Mongolia (52 per cent) and Sri Lanka (50 per cent). Figure 7 shows the fastest growing source countries for the VET sector in 2018…

As shown above, growth in the VET sector has been driven by Nepal, who are also Australia’s third biggest international student source and the fastest growing, according to the Department of Home Affairs:

Inside Story’s economics correspondent, Tim Colebatch, recently warned that the flood of lower quality Nepalese students into Australia is degrading education standards:

…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.

Next, the ASQA report warns that international students are especially vulnerable to “being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation” by dodgy and unregulated education agents, who accounted for around three-quarters of international student enrolments in 2017:

Education agents are an integral part of Australia’s overseas education sector. They represent education providers to students and advise prospective students on courses of study available to them in all education sectors.

There is no legal requirement under Australian law for providers or overseas students to engage an agent, but most do—agents facilitated almost 74 per cent of the total overseas student enrolments in 2017..

ASQA does not regulate migration agents or education agents. Unlike migration agents (onshore), education agents are a non-regulated sector and there are no official registration processes for becoming an education agent…

The drivers of this student demand are complex and relate to a range of interrelated factors, including the ability to work in Australia while undertaking study and post-graduation. Australia’s post-study work rights, and its work-rights settings, remain competitive.

The desire to pursue paid employment opportunities, even in breach of their visa conditions, is likely to motivate some students and introduces the risk that some providers and agents will seek to exploit this demand and recruit these overseas students using misleading and unethical practices.

Overseas students rely heavily on the assistance of education agents when making decisions and can lack reliable information to hold their providers and education agents to account. This dependence makes overseas students vulnerable to being misinformed, misled and, in the worst circumstances, open to exploitation by their providers, education agents and other third parties, such as employers.

… there are ongoing concerns expressed by some stakeholders and commentators about the quality and integrity of VET and ELICOS courses, especially where students are not properly engaged and participating in their study.

Many of these concerns centre on the potential for collusive activity between some providers, education agents and those students who seek to enter Australia for paid employment, rather than to engage in study. These practices can be difficult for regulators to detect, given that the parties involved are unlikely to make complaints to the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) or other government agencies…

Many education agents operate from foreign countries. There is no government regulatory oversight of education agents, and the quality of the services provided by agents is reliant on individual providers systematically monitoring the practices of their agents. This lack of oversight can make overseas students vulnerable to poor practices, including misleading marketing and advertising, by providers and agents that deliberately evade their obligations.

Some overseas students may also come under financial pressure once they are in Australia and find themselves in situations where they work more hours than they are entitled to under their student visa conditions. All overseas students who breach their student visa conditions, regardless of their intentions or motivations, can find themselves open to exploitation by unscrupulous providers, agents and employers…

It is these persistent concerns that led ASQA to identify delivery of VET and ELICOS courses to international students as a systemic risk…

There are risk factors specific to the overseas student sector, particularly in the VET sector, that can lead to poor provider behaviour. While many providers may display these risk factors and still operate effectively and reputably, ASQA did find that some providers deliberately avoid compliance and adopt poor practices…

ASQA also singled-out “ghost colleges” that enrol overseas students but do not ­require class attendance:

Regulatory activities conducted on some providers as part of the strategic review, and in ASQA’s wider regulatory work, identified one particular concern relating to overseas student class attendance. Investigation of this issue has found several instances of providers who are not requiring overseas students to attend scheduled classes, but who are still determining that these students are progressing in their course.

Overseas students are required to be enrolled in a full-time registered course to meet the study requirements of the student visa program…

Finally, ASQA indentified instances of institutions recruiting students with poor English proficiency in order to boost student numbers and revenue:

In conducting its regulatory activities, ASQA found instances of students who were enrolled in VET courses where their English language capabilities were limited.

In one example, the student, who was interviewed during a site visit of a provider, had to use non-verbal gestures to articulate basic statements and requested others to translate so the student could respond to questions. In this example, the student had been enrolled in a business qualification for more than 12 months, having been accepted with an English test type of ‘other form of testing which satisfies the institution’. It is clear this student did not have an appropriate level of English language capability either on enrolment or developed during study…

While the obligations are on the provider to ensure students have a sufficient level of English to complete the course they seek to enrol in, there is an opportunity for poor-quality providers to overlook limited English capability when enrolling a student to maximise their student enrolments inappropriately.

While ASQA claims the international student industry is operating reasonably well overall, these are definite holes in the system in dire need of improvement.


Private ‘ghost’ colleges a honeypot for Indian international students

Last week, Former High Court justice, Ian Callinan, claimed the surge in bridging visa applications to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) was being fuelled by organised criminals using so-called “ghost colleges” offering “fake vocational training prog­rams”:

[Former High Court justice Ian Callinan] said “almost everyone” with migration law experience had told him there were applic­ants and representatives who “game the system, well knowing there is an automatic entitlement to a bridging visa”.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority told Mr Callinan that delays had repercussions beyond the AAT. It told him it was aware that organised crimin­als were sometimes, “perhaps even regularly”, benefiting from fake vocational training prog­rams or “ghost’’ colleges…

The AAT now handles about 59,000 lodgements a year: more than half (52 per cent) are migra­tion and refugee cases…

Yesterday, the national representative body for vocational education – the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia (ITECA) – rejected Justice Callinan’s claims:

In his review, Mr Callinan… said that in his meeting with ASQA’s acting head, she had cited so-called “ghost colleges” for international students as an ­example of organised crime’s involvement in the vocational training industry.

He said she had discussed with him the fact that these colleges were “little more than addresses operated by people who provided no real training or tuition”.

“Their ‘students’ were not bona fide students. Often the so-called provider would find a job for the foreign entrant, charging commissions to both the employer and the so-called ‘student employee’, and arrange, again at cost, the transmission of funds to the ‘student’s’ home country,” Mr Callinan wrote in his review…

“To make such a bold comment is disconcerting as, in recent times, ASQA has failed to even intimate this privately to ITECA,” said Troy Williams, head of the Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia, which represents nearly 500 vocational education and training providers…

This isn’t the first time these concerns have been aired. In February, Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute accused private ‘ghost’ colleges of opening ‘shopfronts’ in Melbourne offering cheap business and IT courses that provide the minimum requirements for a skilled visa application, aimed primarily at students from India’s Sub-continent:

“It has little to do with the excellence of the education that’s offered here,” he said. “It seems to be effectively selling access to jobs and ­permanent residence.”

Home Affairs Department figures show Indians are the biggest applicants of the 485 student visa… Many Indian students afterwards apply for permanent residency, with more than 4000 given skilled independent visas onshore in 2016-17…

Indeed, the explosion in graduate (485) visas has been driven by Indians, whose application numbers exploded by 37% in 2H 2018, dwarfing applications from other nations:


This type of rorting was recently exposed in the ACT, where private colleges proliferated providing international students, primarily from the Indian sub-continent, with the necessary points to qualify for permanent residency under the Territory’s relaxed migration scheme:

In the 12 months after the eligibility criteria was relaxed, colleges reported an explosion in enrolments… If a potential migrant’s occupation was not on the list of in-demand jobs, they could apply by proving a close connection to Canberra. This included living in the ACT for at least 12 months and studying a Certificate III or higher qualification at a local institution…

“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…

It is also worth pointing out that we experienced the very same shenanigans a decade ago. From August 2009:

In 2002 there was just over 11,000 Indian students in Australia, and by 2005 this number had grown to over 27,000… However, by last year enrolments had grown even more rapidly up to nearly 100,00 students, and most of the growth was in private vocational colleges where enrolments of Indian students increased at a startling rate, from 2,600 to 47,400 in three years…

Up until around 2005 most Indian students seeking permanent residency in Australia undertook masters programs, usually in information technology and accounting…

In 2004-05 three quarters Indian students graduating from Australian university programs obtained permanent residency.

The only problem with this had been that many international graduates in these areas of migration demand were not subsequently employed in the fields for which they had studied. Migration requirements were tightened to mandate higher levels of English proficiency and professional experience, and these had the effect of dampening demand somewhat for some university programs…

Private colleges responded quickly be developing new cooking and hairdressing programs that would give students enough points to get through. Some private colleges are very high quality institutions with a wide range of programs for local and international students, but there are low quality providers who cater almost exclusively to international students seeking fast and easy qualifications to support migration applications. By last year, 14,400 Indian students were studying in private colleges in programs grouped under the ‘food, hospitality and personal services’ classification, accounting more than a quarter of all students in these programs.

For several years many in the Australian international education industry have been warning that the rapid growth of private colleges providers focused on migration pathway programs posed serious threats to vulnerable students, who were sometimes willing to pay hefty fees and tolerate poor facilities and teaching in return for a piece of paper that would assist them to gain residency. There was also a concern that the actions of these colleges could bring the entire Australian education system into disrepute internationally…

History doesn’t repeat but it sure does rhyme. Back then, like now, private colleges have acted as ‘middle-men’ for Australia’s immigration system, clipping the ticket on those seeking to use student visas as a backdoor for gaining permanent residency.

And judging by their explosive growth, the Indian cohort remains both the key user and victim in this broken system.


Minister praises vocational study over uni

Michaelia Cash
Minister Michaelia Cash hopes to raise the profile of the vocational education and training sector. (AAP)

Skills and Employment Minister Michaelia Cash wants Australian students to choose vocational training over university study when they finish school.

The federal government hopes Australian students will put their hands up for vocational education over university study.

Skills Minister Michaelia Cash will on Thursday address the vocational education and training sector at a conference in Adelaide, outlining the Morrison government’s aims for the field.

Senator Cash hopes to raise the profile of the sector to ensure it’s the first pick for students choosing their next steps after high school.

“It is a valuable career choice for many Australians and should not be seen as being something less important than a university degree,” she will say.

“We know that people with VET qualifications are highly regarded and sought after by employers, but we need more people to choose VET as their path to success.”

Senator Cash will also urge education providers to work closer with industry to ensure students receive better training.

“Employers look to vocationally trained workers because of their suitability in skills and experience,” she will say.

“Australia’s VET system must better connect with industry, respond to community needs and have clear, consistent funding.”

There were more than 250,000 apprentices and trainees at the end of last year, while more than four million Australians undertook vocational education and training in 2017.

Under the Morrison government’s $525 million plan, up to 80,000 extra apprenticeships will be created over the next five years in areas with skills shortages.

Youth unemployment in regional Australia will also be combated, with 400 scholarships on offer to the value of $8 million.

International Student Safety Loopholes In Australia Pretty Alarming

Australia prides itself as a safe travel destination, however, the latest series of robberies and physical attacks targeting international students in Melbourne is alarming. Moreover, the Australian media believes that international students are treated as “cash cows”, raising serious concerns about the safety and wellbeing of foreign students in Australia.

International education is a lucrative industry in Australia, with more than 500,000 international students contributing nearly A$32 billion into Australia’s economy. International education was also the third-largest export earner for the country, according to a statement by Universities Australia’s Deputy Chief Executive Anne-Marie Lansdown, released last year.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the government was working in collaboration with education providers to “ensure Australia is a safe and welcoming country for international students”.

Several safety policies and frameworks were employed in the country, including the 2018 National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students which requires education providers to give foreign students information in relation to on-campus safety. It also entails that varsities should employ staff and other support mechanisms to help students in matters pertaining to health or counselling, with immediate actions against critical incidents such as cases of violence, aggression, physical or sexual assault.

Majority of Australian universities have good safety measures employed at their respective campuses such as CCTV camera coverage, emergency phone points and active security services patrolling. However, a major challenge for universities lies in protecting international students travelling to and from the university and also in their local communities.

University students were often victimised on public transports. According to a Melbourne-based study, nearly 80 percent of surveyed female students said they ‘had been victims of comments, advances, groping, or being followed on public transport” in the last three years. More than half of the surveyed men reported that they were mistreated in public transports. Another study found international students were more likely to report safety threats on racial, religious or cultural grounds than domestic students

Different Australian universities are also taking a lead to handle the matter at hand. Griffith University offers self-defense classes to their students and staff so that they can protect themselves and can develop strategies to avoid personal harm or injury. Several universities have MATES (Mentoring and Transition Equals Success) or equivalent mentoring program for new students to connect them with already enrolled students and learn about university life in Australia. This network can also be used to create awareness about international student safety.


International students destroy Australia’s productivity future

Last week, Adrian Blundell-Wignall – former director of the OECD, an adjunct professor at Sydney University and author of Globalisation and Finance at the Crossroads – penned the following in The AFR on how to “turbocharge Australia’s productivity”, which claimed that “better education output is central to future productivity growth”:

More generally, the “plan” should be a framework that provides a research-and-innovation culture and policy certainty. The plan should recognise that better education output is central to future productivity growth.

After reading this diagnosis, it immediately sprung to mind that Australia is doing the complete opposite on the “better education output” front.

As has been reported repeatedly on this site, Australia’s tertiary education system has morphed from “higher learning” to “higher earner”, with universities turned into ‘degree factories’ for maximum profit.

Nowhere is this more evident than with our universities’ ruthless pursuit of international students, whose numbers have nearly doubled over the past six years:

This surge in numbers has driven the share of international students studying at Australia’s universities to alarming heights:

In fact, if the current trajectory of international student numbers is maintained, then the share of international students will soon overtake domestic students.

Australia’s universities and the federal government have actively sought international students because of the lucrative fees on offer. This is illustrated clearly by the below chart from NSW Auditor-General:

As well as the below graphic from the ABC showing the export income associated with the surge in student numbers:

While universities and government always talk up the financial dividends from international students, they refuse to acknowledge the broader costs to productivity associated with the boom in international student numbers.

The recent Four Corners expose on Australia’s international student trade exposed these costs, presenting damning evidence that Australia’s universities have badly lowered entry and teaching standards in a bid to entice large numbers of lower-quality, full fee-paying international students, most of whom lack basic English language skills.

separate Four Corners report aired in 2015 similarly documented widespread cheating, plagiarism and fraud by international students at Australia’s universities.

Alongside ballooning international student numbers, the ratio of students to academic staff at Australia’s universities has materially worsened, increasing from 20.05 in 2009 to 21.44 in 2017:

This is a clear metric showing that education quality has been eroded, especially when viewed alongside most international students being of Non English-Speaking Backgrounds and, therefore, having higher needs than native English-speaking domestic students.

Basically, Australia’s future productivity has been put at risk from the commercialisation of Australia’s universities into ‘degree factories’. Education has been turned into a commodity to be sold for maximum profit, rather than a tool for up-skilling the population.

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.

English courses for international students face audit against new standards

English language course providers that enable international students’ entry into the Australian education system will be probed by the regulator to ensure they are complying with strengthened standards.

Amid ongoing concern about the standards in Australia’s booming international education sector, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will later this year audit the more than 50 providers of English language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS).

English language courses for international students face an audit by the regulator.
English language courses for international students face an audit by the regulator.CREDIT:JOE ARMAO

The providers will be scrutinised for their compliance with national standards that were tightened from 2018, requiring proper measures to demonstrate students’ outcomes are adequate for the higher education programs they are entering.

Providers have indicated they are ramping up efforts to comply with the changes ahead of the regulator’s reaccreditation project.

“As part of this, the agency will systematically go through provider by provider (and there are about 55 providers that offer ELICOS courses) and will be assessing those courses against the strengthened ELICOS national standards,” the spokeswoman said.

Australia’s international education market has boomed over recent years, growing 14 per cent in 2018. Last year, about 400,000 foreign students were enrolled in Australian universities, pumping $34 billion into the economy.

The explosive growth has led to concerns about foreign students being treated as cash cows, the impact on teaching standards, and potential complications stemming from the heavy reliance on Chinese students.

Brett Blacker, chief executive of English Australia, a peak body representing the ELICOS providers, said there were no systemic issues on English standards in international education.

“That’s not to say there aren’t pockets of issues or areas that need to improve. Any measures that are taken to ensure the quality of the sector are welcomed,” Mr Blacker said.

“The reaccreditation project, I expect that it is going to validate that the regulations are working effectively.”

He conceded that, given ongoing concerns about the issue, there was an “onus for measures to be taken which support the student experience for all students”.

Amanda Muller, a senior lecturer responsible for student language development at Flinders University, said the tightening of ELICOS standards was “entirely needed” and it was to be expected that TEQSA was now ensuring compliance.

“Rather than each ELICOS provider setting their own private standards, now they have to show that their tests are valid, what criteria the students are meeting, and that there is some form of benchmarking going on to other related pathways,” Dr Muller said.

She said there was pressure on providers to produce results for their customers in the smallest amount of time possible.

“So it puts pressure on responsible ELICOS providers who genuinely are trying to get students very proficient in English versus ones who are more interested in selling the more popular shorter courses,” she said.

The government is currently considering further measures to tighten rules around language standards.

Following the introduction of the stricter ELICOS standards, Education Minister Dan Tehan has sought advice on applying similar rules to academic foundation courses that provide foreign students with another pathway into higher education.

TEQSA has also recommended universities be forced to “record, in detail, the basis on which a student met the required English language entry standard”.

Dr Muller backed the ideas, saying it was important for academic foundation courses to face tighter rules and that improved data collection was key to quality.

“Currently, if a university does not have full detailed records of how a student established their English proficiency, we can’t detect problematic demographics, providers, and pathways,” she said.

Canada vs UK vs Australia – Which Country is the Best for International Students?

Canada vs UK vs Australia - Which Country is the Best for International Students

Canada, the UK and Australia are three popular study destinations for students looking to study internationally. But, Canada vs the UK vs Australia – which country is the best for international students?

Canada hosts three universities ranked in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings – Toronto UniversityMcGill University and the University of British Columbia. Seven Australian universities feature in the top 100, including the Australian University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney. Meanwhile, the UK has a whopping 18 universities in the top 100! These include

UCL and the University of Bristol.


Each of these countries has something quite different to offer. The beautiful mountains of Canada, stunning beaches of Australia and exciting cities of the UK may all appeal to you – but which country really does offer the best university experience? Read this article to find out more.


Weather in the UK is, unfortunately, generally mild and rainy. Although the summer and winter seasons offer extremes of warm summer days and snowfall, rain is the more commonly found weather from throughout the year. In the summertime, temperatures generally sit between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius, whereas winters are much cooler at around 0 to 7 degrees Celsius.

The weather in Canada varies across the country, depending on the location at which you choose to study. The country stretches across five time zones from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and its weather is just as broad ranging. Toronto offers a cold and snowy winter with an average temperature of -4.6 degrees Celsius. It can get as low as -20 sometimes!

And take note, this is considered a milder winter temperature than found in other Ontario towns and cities. The summers in Toronto tend to be hotter than the UK with temperatures averaging 20 to 35-degree Celsius.

One reason for Australia being such a popular study destination is the amazing weather it offers year round. In contrast to the often cold weather found in Canada and the UK, Australia offers much more sunny climes, and beautiful beaches to enjoy it on, too!

Canada vs UK vs Australia - Which Country is the Best for International Students

Tuition Fee Costs

Tuition fees for an undergraduate course in the UK average US$10,000 – US$19,000 per year. For postgraduate courses, tuition fees average at a higher cost of US$12,500 – US$25,000 per year.

Average fees in Canada are broader and offer both cheaper and more expensive options than the UK, dependent on your programme of study and choice of institution. The bottom end of the average in Canada is lower than the UK, with average undergraduate fees starting at US$7,500. However, the average tuition fee cost in Canada goes up to US$22,000. Postgraduate fees average at a similar price to those in the UK, ranging from US$11,000 to US$26,000.

Tuition fees in Australia average higher than those in the UK and Canada. In 2018, the cost of tuition fees for international undergraduate students was estimated to be US$22,100 per year, whilst for international postgraduate students, the average was US$22,700.

Cost of Living

In addition to tuition fees, other costs need to be considered when thinking about studying abroad. The average cost of living that includes the cost of rent and living expenses for the duration of the course is important.

In the UK, rent and living costs are estimated at between US$12,000 and US$15,000 per year. Most undergraduate degrees (except for languages and medicine related programmes) tend to last for three years in the UK. That makes a total cost of living of $36,000 – $45,000 for the duration of a UK undergraduate degree programme. This price is likely to increase if you choose to study in one of the more expensive cities, such as London.

The cost of living in Canada for international students is cheaper than in the UK. It is estimated that US$7,500 to US$9,000 is needed for rent and living expenses each year. Again, this will of course increase if you are living in one of the more pricier cities, such as Vancouver. However, it is important to note that degree programmes in Canada are four years long.

So, although the yearly cost is cheaper, over the course of study you will need US$30,000 to US$36,000 in total, making it only slightly less expensive than the UK.

As part of the visa application process, potential international students for Australia must prove that they have access to US$14,000 per year to cover the costs of living. Australia is known to be a very expensive country. For residents there, wages are much higher than for people in other countries, and so the high cost of rent and consumables does not cause them any problems.

However, for students, it will mean that you must carefully budget. Undergraduate degree programmes in Australia are generally three years in length, the same as the UK, meaning that a total of US$42,000 is required in total to cover the cost of studying for a degree in Australia.

Postgraduate study is 1-2 years in all three countries.

Canada vs UK vs Australia - Which Country is the Best for International Students

Opportunities for Permanent Residency

It has become increasingly difficult for international students to remain in the UK and seek employment upon graduation over the past seven years. In 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May, changed the law so that students could only stay in the UK for two months after the end of their studies.

The government later recognised this as unfair and extended it to two years. University organisations and some politicians are now lobbying for this to be further extended to two years. However, it is still stuck at six months at this current time.

In contrast, Canada has a low population and is often seeking individuals to take on highly skilled workers. It, therefore, offers many more opportunities to international students to remain in the country upon graduation. It’s a visa program, the PGWP (Post-Graduate Work Permit) allows students to stay and work in the country for three years if the application is successful. Once this visa has been approved, students are then able to apply for permanent residency.

Australia is also more open to international students remaining at the end of their studies. It offers a Skilled-Graduate Temporary visa that allows international students to stay in Australia for 18 months after graduation. This can be to gain additional work experience or even travel around the country! The Skilled-Independent (Resident) Visa can be applied for to give permanent residency to those who have completed two years of study in Australia.

The international student bubble is about to burst

The Department of home affairs’ latest quarterly visa data showed that international student numbers hit a record high 613,000 in the year to March 2019, up 77,000 over the past year and 280,000 since March 2013:

However, the composition of students is clearly shifting away from China towards India and Nepal, according to official government data:

New federal government data shows that the total number of Chinese students commencing courses in the first semester of 2019 is only 1.5 per cent higher than last year.

This compares to growth of 7.4 per cent last year, and 17 to 19.8 per cent growth in the previous two years… [However] overall numbers continue to grow, driven by strong interest from India and Nepal.

More than 199,000 international students commenced courses in the first three months of this year (corresponding to the start of the first semester), 9.6 per cent higher than last year. The number of commencing Indian students rose by 50 per cent to nearly 29,000 and the number of Nepalese students was up 27.6 per cent to nearly 13,000.

The total number of international students enrolled in the March quarter this year was 640,000, 11.1 per cent up on the March quarter last year… In the year to March, education exports were worth $36.6bn, 15.4 per cent higher than the corresponding period a year earlier.

As regular readers know, Australia’s international student trade has to date been powered by China, whose 153,000 students in 2018 were more than double that of India (72,000) and roughly five times the numbers from Nepal (28,000):

As shown above, the average yield is also much higher for Chinese students ($72,000) than it is for students from India ($52,700) or Nepal ($56,600).

The reason is simple: Chinese students tend to pay higher fees to study at higher quality Group of Eight Universities. On the other hand, students sourced from India and Nepal generally study at cheaper second-tier institutions or private colleges, often for the primary purpose of gaining employment and future permanent residency in Australia.

For example, last year it was revealed that applicants from the Indian Sub-Continent were using state-based migration schemes in Tasmania and the ACT for backdoor permanent residency into Sydney and Melbourne:

During recent months and years, a large number of prospective permanent residents – particularly international students from the Indian subcontinent – moved to Tasmania and the ACT for a relatively easier pathway to permanent residency…

This rorting was particularly prevalent in Canberra, where large numbers of Indian students streamed into the ACT to study at private colleges for one year and to qualify for permanent residency:

In July last year the ACT government widened the criteria for those seeking to be nominated by the territory government for 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…

Last month’s Four Corners report was especially critical of the quality of students arriving from the Indian sub-continent, reporting widespread cases of academic misconduct, plagiarism, and students failing their courses.

For example, maths lecturer and academic misconduct investigator, Dr Duncan Farrow, told Four Corners:

“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”.

Murdoch University’s Professor Benjamin Reilly expressed similar concerns:

“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”…

In a similar vein, Inside Story’s Tim Colebatch warned that large numbers of Nepalese students are flocking to Australia on spurious grounds, and risk repeating the training visa scams experienced a decade ago:

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

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.

As reported in last month’s Four Corners report, some universities have been admitting international students who are below the university’s own published English standards, as well as accepting “medium of instruction” (MOI) letters for postgraduate students from India and Nepal, which state that students previously studied in English.

Some of these students are undoubtedly gaining access to Australia via fraud, as implied by the 2015 ICAC investigationentitled “Managing corruption risks associated with international students”:

In the search for international students, some universities in NSW are entering markets where document fraud and cheating on English-language proficiency tests are known to exist. They are using large numbers of local intermediaries – sometimes more than 200 agents – to market to and recruit students, resulting in due diligence and control challenges…

False entry qualifications, cheating on English-language proficiency tests, essay mills selling assignments, plagiarism, cheating in university exams and paying others to sit exams are reportedly common.

The pressures within universities are also conductive to corruption.

It’s not hard to see why. Across Facebook there are many advertisements by unregulated Sub Continental education agents spruiking how they can assist prospective students to manipulate the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) to gain entry into Australia’s universities (example below).

Given that Australia’s universities and private colleges are now scraping the bottom of the international student barrel, and bringing in lower quality (and lower paying) students from India and Nepal, surely this is a signal that the international student bubble is about to burst?

With Australia’s largest student source – China – topping-out, and increasing scrutiny on the sector following the Four Corners report, it’s only a matter of time before international student numbers begin to fall.

Attacks on Chinese international students put entire industry at risk

Earlier this week, the Herald-Sun reported that gangs have been targetting Chinese international students near Monash University, with 13 separate violent attacks at knifepoint reported over the past 18 days.

The assaults have prompted Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, to ask his Department to examine ways to ensure student safety in order to protect Australia’s lucrative international student trade:

Mr Tehan said he was concerned about criminals targeting foreign students near Monash University and has now added physical safety as a priority in the development of the strategy.

“Particularly when we’ve got a sector that’s worth $34 billion to our economy we have to make sure we’re taking the necessary steps to keep international students safe,” Mr Tehan told SBS News…

A spokesperson for Monash said student security was “paramount”…

Australia has been down this road before. Between 2008 and 2010, a series of violent attacks on Indian students — including the stabbing death of student Nitin Garg — created intense outrage on the subcontinent.

After Nitin Garg’s murder in January 2010, India’s foreign minister recommended parents boycott sending their children to study at Australian universities, causing Indian enrolments to drop sharply for several years.

As shown in the next chart from the Department of Education and Training, total international student enrolments fell 3.5% from 335,273 in 2010 to 323,612 in 2012, caused entirely by the fall in Indian students.

The stakes are much higher this time around. International student growth has been driven by China, whose numbers have surged from around 95,000 in 2015 to 150,000 as at 2018. Chinese students also accounted for around $11 billion of Australia’s $32 billion in education export earnings in 2018:

We have already received explicit warnings from a senior Department of Home Affairs official that “the highly lucrative six-year boom in Chinese students is over” – a view supported by the ABS’ latest overseas arrivals and departures data, which shows that arrivals from China had fallen for nine consecutive months, and are back to August 2017 levels:

Political tensions between Australia and China are already fragile, and there is the risk that attacks on Chinese international students could lead to a similar backlash as displayed by India’s Government in 2010.

Remember, unlike commodities, Australia has no natural advantage in university education, and is facing increasing competition from abroad. Perceived risks around safety, alongside existing concerns around education quality, could easily tip the competitive balance away from Australia and make it increasingly difficult for Australia to maintain Chinese student numbers and the financial benefits that comes with them.