Australia to unis: Slash dependency on students from China & India

By Our Reporter
File photo/ Representational

In a move to recalibrate their international student intake, university leaders are receiving directives to lessen their dependency on China and India while steering overseas students toward courses that align with Australia’s skill shortages. This directive is further fuelling the ongoing clash over federal proposals to cap the annual influx of students, The Age has reported.

The federal government intends to utilise this cap as a tool to incentivise education institutions to attract more international students to fields like nursing and healthcare, creating a new barrier for those primarily catering to business courses, the report said.

However, the Labor policy has triggered concerns among university leaders following a crucial meeting yesterday morning, during which federal cabinet ministers outlined their intentions to implement the new regulations starting January 1, aiming to curb the steep rise in international student numbers.

Mark Scott, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney, was quoted as warning of the potential for a funding shortfall if the government imposes drastic measures, sparking a debate on how to manage growth without depriving the sector of vital resources.

While University chiefs expressed apprehension, La Trobe University’s Vice Chancellor, Theo Farrell, expressed support for the reform plan, advocating for a shift away from relying heavily on Chinese students and advocating for an increase in graduates in fields such as healthcare, The Age reported.

Following the meeting with international education experts, Education Minister Jason Clare and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil pledged to engage in consultations regarding the proposed changes. However, they emphasized the urgency of managing the sector’s growth effectively, highlighting deficiencies in current policy settings.

A primary government concern stems from the significant increase in international student numbers, reaching 671,000 by the end of March, with a large portion concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. China, India, and Nepal contributed the majority of these students.

Clare aims to introduce legislation this week, granting the government the authority to set maximum intake levels for education providers and potentially specify the number of overseas students permitted in particular courses, if deemed necessary.

Unlike Canada, where student number caps are enshrined in legislation, the Australian government plans to negotiate with universities, private colleges, and vocational education providers to establish rules granting the Minister the power to set intake limits. The draft framework emphasises the importance of diversifying the student population by exploring alternative sources from regions such as South America and the Indo-Pacific, the report further said.

Scott noted that the University of Sydney is already reviewing its international student composition but believes that the government’s intent is not to halt sector-wide growth entirely. Instead, he advocates for measured strategies to foster growth without unsettling the market or deterring prospective students.

Farrell highlighted La Trobe’s readiness to expand its regional campuses in Victoria to accommodate growth in healthcare-related fields and alleviate pressure on major cities. He also pointed out the current system’s bias toward attracting Chinese students to business courses due to streamlined visa processes.

Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, who participated in the ministerial discussions, was quoted echoing the sentiment of promoting sector growth while striving to moderate its pace.

The proposed legislation complements other measures in the federal budget, including a substantial increase in student visa application fees, expected to generate $1.2 billion, albeit raising Australia’s fees above those of other nations, according to the report.

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