Australian states for vocational student visa changes

By Paritosh Parasher, IANS,

Melbourne : Irked by the relaxation of visa rules just for university students, governments of the two largest Australian states New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are now pushing for the changes to be extended to the vocational training students too.

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Victoria premier Ted Baillieu has joined his NSW counterpart Barry O’Farrell to criticise recently announced changes as “effectively strangling” the overseas student market.

“The Victorian government is concerned that the Commonwealth have effectively strangled the international education market with a knee-jerk reaction that is threatening a $5.8 billion industry in Victoria,” Ted Baillieu’s spokesperson told media.

An organisation of the government-owned vocational training institutes has also criticised the proposed changes in student visa regulations.

TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) said in a statement that the review of the visa system had sent mixed signals to students interested in studying in Australia and was “disappointingly one-sided” in favour of universities.

Victoria and New South Wales are heavily dependent on the overseas students market to prop up their respective economies. Overseas students brought, according to media reports, $6.5 billion into NSW’s economy last year while Victoria’s share was $5.8 billion.

The revenue from the overseas student market has come under serious strain as the Australian immigration department decided to tighten the student visa rules and also upped the ante against alleged scams in the Australian vocational training sector.

According to immigration department figures, visa approvals for the vocational education and training sector declined by nearly 45 percent last financial year. What worries the industry stakeholders the most is the fact that the biggest source country China has shown a decline of a massive 64 percent while second largest source country India has haemorrhaged with 90 percent less enrolment last financial year.

Mostly privately-owned vocational training institutes in Victoria and New South Wales have suffered the worst blow to their revenues as students from the top source countries, China and India, dried up.

The Australian overseas students market observers have been forecasting improvement in enrolments as Knight Review recommendations were accepted late last month.

Australian federal government had appointed a former NSW minister Michael Knight to look into various issues related to Australia’s third largest export – overseas student education.

The most prominent of the Knight Review recommendations has been to remove stifling assessment level’s system for those international students who complete a degree course from one of the Australian universities. Such graduates would also get two-year post-studies work visa.

Victoria state’s Premier Ted Baillieu and his NSW counterpart Barry O’Farrell are now both airing their concerns publicly that the Knight Review would benefit just the universities and the vocational education sector, which suffered the most drastic fall in enrolments, has been left to fend for itself.

Victorian policymakers are exceptionally worried by the non-inclusion of the vocational training colleges in the relaxations as mentioned in the Knights Review.

Before the drastic drop in the vocational enrollments, Victoria used to attract the largest number of international students from India. With the business from South Asian country diving by 90 percent, the vocational training sector in Victoria has seen too many college closures leading to redundancies.

(Paritosh Parasher can be contacted at [email protected])