Private Providers allegation that Department is "sabotaging" Australia's higher education sector are off base.
Stephen Nagle, director of the nationally spread Holmes Institute (a private provider mainly focusing on business degrees and diplomas in business, english and cookery), has come out swinging today in the HES article "Stay or go: mixed messages for offshore students" (Bernard Lane, HES, 22.08.12).
Nagle is deeply critical of the new discretionary powers of Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) officials, who are charged with assessing whether student visa applicants are genuine in their desire to study in Australia.
In the article, Nagle alleges that officials are rejecting 25 - 30 per cent of Holmes applicants and accuses officials of rejecting students on the basis that they are better off taking courses at home. He also believes that students wishing to study english should not have to demonstrate why this would be of beneift to their career or further studies.
He is joined in the article by Ingeborg Loon of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, who believes that the new system is being applied (as quoted in the HES article) in a '..subject and punitive way".
While there are sections of the international edcuation sector that are clearly not happy with the new arrangements, what is interesting is the data that has thus far been reported. DIAC's early figures have shown that with the new Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE) process (bought about as a result of the Knight Review into International Education and Visa Processes, and implimented earlier this year), together with the implementation of visa 'streamlining' to approved universities, has seen less than 2 per cent of student visa applications (between 5th November 2011 and 31st may 2012) being rejected.
The new 'streamlining' process has been introduced for prospective students enrolling in Bachelor, Masters or Doctoral degrees at participating universities (noting that of the 42 universities operating currently, 41 are participating in these streamlining arrangements). In 'streamlining' all students, irrespective of country of origin, who are given a letter by their institution notifying them of acceptance into the degree program, are assessed as low risk (similar to the current Assessment level 1).
While this does not guarantee that a visa will be granted and students must still meet English language and financial requirements, the burden of proof and documentation is not as high for students in higher assessment levels, and they tend to be processed more quickly - (70 per cent within 14 days). Whether this results in an overall improvment of visa acceptances will not be known until the Department releases the data on acceptances in September (and its a safe bet that, given what is required in order to be approved for 'streamlining', the universities are certainly looking forward to seeing this data).
While the tone of many in the sector has been highly critical,it must be remembered that the previous system which tied immigration and permanent visa's to international education saw a plethora of dodgey providers spring up over night and target international students in what was effectively a market free for all. At its worst, students paid excessive sums for courses that were often not delivered, or poorly so, and they had few mechanisms to assist them should the provider suddenly fold. It was an issue that was prolific in the private provider sector, and the Knight review correctly pointed out that for many students there was a disparity between the cost of the course and the likelihood of that student continuing in that profession.
We do note that the new system is still in its infancy and is obviously not perfect. While we wait for the reporting of solid data in many areas, it is clear that there are substanitl problems for English language providers. We also note that its beneficial for the sector to be providing government with feedback on what is happening on the ground, and that there is a genuine will from the Department in working with the sector on improving problem areas. We do not, however, want to go back to the cowboy days of International education; an any short term gain would be counterd by the damage in the reputation for quality of Australia's tertiary education sector.
Like others, the Union will be interested to see what the breakdown on rejections (and acceptances) are by country, keeping in mind that a Depratmental review of Assessment levels is to be held at some point in the near future. However, thus far, it would appear that the new provisions, whilst there being anectodal evidence of it impacting negatively on some private providers, could equally be positive for many others. The data to prove one way or another, and what affects there have been on the sector are, as yet, unknown.
Regardless, NTEU is in no doubt that the process of GTE assessment and 'streamlining', will be an item for further discussion when the sector meets with DIAC officials in September.
Link to the HES article is HERE.