PM to launch first national review of vocational education in 40 years

PM to launch first national review of vocational education in 40 years

The Morrison government will launch a review of the beleaguered vocational education sector after years of scandal and business complaints over the mismatch between job-seekers and employers

In a bid to stifle Labor’s own review – announced in March – and one of the opposition’s strongest policy suits ahead of the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will appoint former New Zealand government minister Steven Joyce to lead the first national review of vocational education in more than 40 years.

The sector, which provides services to 4.2 million students, has suffered from a fragmentation between the states, a preference from school leavers for university qualifications and a string of scandals that began under Labor and continued under the Coalition through hundred of millions of dollars in VET-FEE-HELP rorts.

Business has been despairing at the lack of direction within the industry. Trade shortages remain throughout the country, with employers relying heavily on temporary skilled migrants to bolster the workforce, adding pressure to infrastructure and fuelling a divisive immigration debate.

Mr Morrison told business leaders at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual dinner in Canberra on Wednesday that VET system needed to be strengthened, “not simply as an economic imperative but to ensure Australians are equipped for the workforce of the future, with the opportunity to fulfil their potential”.
“Tonight I announce that the government has commissioned an independent review of the vocational education sector in Australia to make sure we’re training the right people for the right jobs in the years ahead,” he said.

He has appointed Mr Joyce, the minister responsible for reforming NZ’s vocational system and a member of former NZ prime minister John Key’s cabinet, to lead the three-month review.

The terms of reference will assess whether the $12 billion industry is “fit for purpose”.

The review is also likely to examine whether the sector is targeted enough to reduce Australia’s stubbornly high youth unemployment rate, which had fallen to six year lows of 11.1 per cent in August, but remains higher than policymakers would like.

Business Council of Australia chair Jennifer Westacott has led calls for reforms since October last year.

“Once and for all we need to fix this cultural bias, reinforced by a funding bias, that a VET qualification is a second-class qualification to a university one,” she said. “It isn’t.”

Labor has made education top-order priority ahead of an expected May election and is likely to seize on the review to argue it will increase vocational education funding if elected.

The government has given Mr Joyce just three months to finish his review in a bid to release it before an early budget in April.

Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek told tertiary leaders in March there was a “great deal of work to be done” to repair the damage to vocational education “even at a time when skills shortages plague the Australian economy.”

The review is not expected to recommend funding cuts but could examine nationalising the vocational education system from a myriad of state agencies – a move the Coalition is unlikely to endorse – along with targeting funding for places in areas where there are skills shortages.

The last national review into vocational education in 1974 effectively created the state-based TAFE system.

Second chance for visa hopefuls as extra places allocated to ACT

Second chance for visa hopefuls as extra places allocated to ACT

Potential migrants to the ACT have been given new hope of being able to continue their lives in Canberra, with 600 extra places allocated to the territory by the Department of Home Affairs.

The ACT government will reopen its Skilled Nominated Visa (subclass 190) program for skilled migrants on Thursday, after it was closed suddenly in June to deal with an influx of international students to the territory.

Like other states and territories, the ACT can nominate potential migrants for the subclass 190 visa, which allows state and territory governments to provide pathways to permanent residency for people with skills needed in particular jurisdictions. Nominees must prove a connection to the state or territory and commit to living there for a period after their visa is granted.

As the federal government removed the beleaguered 457 visa and other states and territories tightened their criteria for the subclass 190 visa, international students flooded private colleges in 2017 in order to meet the 12-month study and residency criteria in order to prove a connection to the ACT.

Even though government documents showed bureaucrats were aware the territory wouldn’t be able to meet demand for the visa within the allocation set for it by the federal Department of Home Affairs, Skills Canberra didn’t act until June, shutting the program to new applicants while a new program was developed.

The ACT government confirmed the 600 places would be on top of the normal allocation of 800, meaning 1400 people will be given the opportunity to become permanent residents of the ACT between now and June next year. Around 300 of those places are likely to go to applications received last financial year as applications surged past the ACT’s allocation.

“This demonstrates that the number of places we were previously allocated by the Commonwealth was inadequate and will also allow the ACT to nominate more eligible people and potentially better assist those who were impacted by the partial program closure in June 2018,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said in a statement.

Under the new nomination system, Skills Canberra will assess applications each month, sending invitations to those with the strongest applications received that month in order to replace the first-in, first-served system with a merit-based system. Under the new model, prospective migrants will gain points depending on how long they have lived in Canberra, if they have studied in Canberra and if their profession is considered in demand.

The new program has no minimum number of points needed to guarantee an invitation, with applicants to be ranked against others applying at the same time.

It also includes extra points for those who already lived in Canberra when the program was shut down in June, but that has been criticised as not going far enough to assist those who had found themselves in the lurch when the program closed. This announcement will go some way to placating hopeful Canberrans, but does not guarantee them a permanent place in the territory.


It’s time to shut down the foreign student rort

It’s time to shut down the foreign student rort

Last week, the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) released a startling new report arguing that Australian universities’ heavy reliance on overseas students is crushing education standards, is oversupplying accounting, IT and engineering occupations, adding to population pressures in Sydney and Melbourne, and is shaping Australia’s foreign policy.

The reality is that the industry is too big, with too many downsides. At present, the tail is wagging the dog. Such is the importance attached to the industry’s progress that the Australian government is privileging its aspiration for continued expansion. The downsides of this growth have largely been ignored…

Because overseas students concentrate in business and commerce courses, and to a lesser extent in IT and engineering, they often constitute a majority presence in these courses. The result has been that the curriculum, teaching and assessment practices reflect the needs and capacities of these students. As we have argued, the educational standards fall far short of university claims that it is of the highest quality…

Such is the scale of the overseas student industry that it is generating wider social downsides. This was flagged by the Productivity Commission (PC) in its 2016 report on the migrant intake. The PC suggested that the number of student and other temporary visas might have to be limited because of their ‘indirect costs and benefits (externalities)’. The Commission noted that ‘educational institutions have little incentive to consider these effects’.[i]

Since this PC report much more evidence of these ‘externalities’ has emerged.

We have described the impact on immigration policy of pressure from universities to keep accounting, IT and engineering occupations on the list of occupations eligible for points-tested permanent residence skill visas. This is despite the oversupply of entry-level domestic graduates in these fields.

We also documented the remarkable contribution of higher education student visa holders to the level of NOM in NSW and Victoria (which in practice means Sydney and Melbourne – since that is where the great majority of overseas students locate). By 2016-17 this contribution reached 25 to 30 per cent of the additional population attributable to NOM in these two states.

Finally, the health of the overseas student industry is of such importance to the Australian government that it has shaped its foreign policy. The Coalition government’s statement in 2018 that it would not seek to contain China in its geopolitical conflict with the US in the Indo-Pacific appears to have been a direct result of university lobbying.

The overseas student industry should be removed from its pedestal, and its priorities balanced against these downsides.

Over the weekend, The ABC also released a detailed report on how Australian university standards have been ‘dumbed down’ by foreign students, many of whom have very poor English and leave university practically unemployable:

…an ABC investigation has uncovered an abundance of international students who describe struggling to communicate effectively in English, participate in class, or complete assignments adequately.

Academics as well as employment and education experts told the ABC that English language standards are often too low or can be sidestepped via loopholes, and that students are often put in stressful classroom situations that can lead to cheating.

Many of the students also often find themselves completing degrees which cost in excess of $100,000 that rarely lead to professional employment after graduation.

Despite this, international students continue to arrive in record numbers, with the most recent figures showing that there are now some 753,000 international students in Australia and 380,000 of them in tertiary studies.

It was while managing a master’s program at RMIT University that media academic Jenny Weight said she became alarmed by the number of international students struggling with basic communication and in some cases had studied “absolutely no English”.

“I have read a lot of assignments written by international students which appear to have been written in Chinese and then translated using Google,” she told the ABC…

“One of the struggles was to try and get our English entry level standards lifted higher, but the pressures on universities to make money from international students is such that they don’t want to, because that will knock out a lot of potential students.”

International education expert Michael Fay said that English is one of the first quality controls for students that is vulnerable to lax standards.

“A lot of the time the people who are in charge of the policy don’t actually understand the English language issues well enough and assume that students are going to somehow, through osmosis, improve their English as they go along through the program,” he said…

Xiaolan Tang is a former international student who now works in China recruiting local students for overseas study — she told the ABC that it’s becoming harder and harder to sell people on Australian degrees.

“People question the quality of Australian universities when students who get refused by top universities in other countries can still easily be accepted by the same level Australian universities,” she told the ABC.

“They think that the entry threshold for Australian universities is set quite low.”

Twenty nine-year-old Zhao Chen studied architecture at the University of Melbourne in 2014 and told the ABC that she found Australian universities’ admission standards weak.

Back in August, The lobby group representing foreign students in Australia – the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) – admitted that many foreign students study in Australia to gain permanent residency:

The Council for International Students in Australia said foreign potential students were attracted to Australia by the possibility of migrating here.

But Mr Dutton’s strong views on border policy and his statement that Australia should reduce its intake of migrants “where we believe it is in our national interest” would tip the balance for some would-be students…

The national president of CISA, Bijay Sapkota, said… “For people coming from low socio-economic backgrounds there has to be a value proposition. If they go home they will not get value. So there has to be a possibility of immigration.”

He said international students were not satisfied with the way Mr Dutton had run the immigration portfolio, where some visas were at risk of being closed down at any time…

The reality is that Australia’s education system has become an integral part of the immigration industry – effectively a way for foreigners to buy backdoor permanent residency to Australia.

Dr Jenny Stewart, Honorary Professor of Public Policy at the University of New South Wales, drew the direct link between permanent residency and foreign student demand in her excellent article Hooked on Students:

If you work in a university, you cannot help but be aware of the extent to which universities are dependent upon income from international undergraduate students. Many of us working in the sector realised that it was not for any intellectual brilliance on our part that the students came, but because for many, coming to Australia as a student was a significant step on the path to becoming an Australian resident…

What do these undergraduate students do once they have completed their qualification? Many, understandably, wish to remain in Australia…

With appropriate advice and support and the necessary persistence, it would seem to be possible for just about any international student who is a graduate of an Australian university to become, eventually, a permanent resident…

International students are also partly behind the ballooning in bridging visas, which have blown-out by 40,000 over the past year, as well as by 90,000 since 2014:
Earlier this month, it was revealed that foreign students have been ‘gaming’ Australian immigration system by appealing their decisions en masse to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to extend their stay:
The number of outstanding student visa refusal cases before the tribunal at the end of May totalled 8603. This compared with 4394 active cases at the end of June 2017 — an increase of more than 95 per cent in a little under a year. The 8603 active student visa refusal cases represented 30 per cent of all active migration cases…

Victorian Liberal MP Jason Wood, the chair of the joint standing committee on migration, said the backlog of cases at the AAT was “outrageous” and argued that the appeals process was “working in favour of the visa holder and not necessarily the Australian taxpayer”. He said foreign students could game the system to extend their stay by several years — an outcome which he said would deny Australian citizens more part time jobs.

Basically, Australia’s university sector has become a giant rent-seeking business, just like the superannuation industry.

Rather than clipping the ticket on the deluge of funds coming in via compulsory superannuation, the universities sector instead clips the ticket on the deluge of foreign students arriving in the hope of transitioning to permanent residency, as well as gaining direct government funding via the demand driven system pertaining to domestic students.

Instead of focusing on providing a high quality education and upskilling Australia’s population, the universities sector has become focussed on pushing through as many students as possible – both domestic and foreign – in order to maximise fees and profit. Again, this has parallels to the superannuation industry, whose focus is on maximising funds under management and fees, rather than achieving strong returns for members.

The end result is the erosion of standards and too many university graduates chasing too few professional jobs.

About the only winners from Australia’s rent-seeking university system are vice-chancellors, whose pay has already exploded to an average of $1 million on the back of the student explosion (both domestic and foreign), at the same time as university students are stuck paying off expensive and increasingly worthless degrees, taxpayers are stuck writing-off unpayable debts, and the broader population is suffering under the never-ending population crush.

It’s time to put a leash on the university sector, starting with removing the link between foreign students studying at university and gaining work visas and permanent residency, as well as lifting entry standards. Let our universities compete on quality and value alone.

Poor English, few jobs: Are Australian universities using international students as ‘cash cows’?

Poor English, few jobs: Are Australian universities using international students as ‘cash cows’?

Recently at an elite Australian university, a senior humanities lecturer opened her office door to a young international student who was accompanied by another woman and seemed nervous. The student had emailed the lecturer in advance about changing to another degree — but right away there was a problem.

“She couldn’t speak any English and she didn’t understand anything that I said,” she told.

The woman accompanying the student, whom the lecturer assumed was a friend, was in fact a translator hired for the meeting.

The student had gone through the first year of her degree without the ability to speak English.

“Which floored me,” said the lecturer.

Universities and industry bodies insist nothing is wrong in Australia’s booming $32 billion-a-year international education industry, but an ABC investigation has uncovered an abundance of international students who describe struggling to communicate effectively in English, participate in class, or complete assignments adequately.

Academics as well as employment and education experts told the ABC that English language standards are often too low or can be sidestepped via loopholes, and that students are often put in stressful classroom situations that can lead to cheating.

Many of the students also often find themselves completing degrees which cost in excess of $100,000 that rarely lead to professional employment after graduation.

Despite this, international students continue to arrive in record numbers, with the most recent figures showing that there are now some 753,000 international students in Australia and 380,000 of them in tertiary studies.

Chinese students make up 30 per cent of all students, leading to a growing concern the sector has become over-reliant on one country while putting Australia’s education industry at risk of political and economic repercussions.

In some of Australia’s largest universities, international students make up nearly 50 per cent of the student body, while their tuition fees contribute an increasingly disproportionate amount of revenue — in some instances, over a third of total revenue, dwarfing domestic student fees and rivalling or even exceeding government funding.

‘Set up for failure’
It was while managing a master’s program at RMIT University that media academic Jenny Weight said she became alarmed by the number of international students struggling with basic communication and in some cases had studied “absolutely no English”.

“I have read a lot of assignments written by international students which appear to have been written in Chinese and then translated using Google,” she told the ABC.

“I don’t blame the students at all for doing that and I think many of them do leave with a somewhat bitter attitude about their experience.

“One of the struggles was to try and get our English entry level standards lifted higher, but the pressures on universities to make money from international students is such that they don’t want to, because that will knock out a lot of potential students.”

Journalism tutor Rose-Ann Manns who teaches at the University of New South Wales said that while many international students performed well, she also saw a significant amount struggle with English.

“In some cases, I wondered how the university did their assessment — particularly the verbal and oral skills — because it seems that in some cases it’s almost like they’re set up for failure,” she said.

Of the many academics and experts approached in the course of this story, only a handful would go on the record for fear of repercussions for their careers — such is the thrall of the higher education system to international fees, some claimed.

Others like Jenny Weight wound up leaving teaching in Australia all together.

“I think the umbrella response, if you like, is that universities don’t really want to be confronted with the problems that international students face,” she said.

“It’s a huge cash cow for them, in a cash poor sector. They’re almost desperately dependent on international student income.”

Dozens of students interviewed by the ABC painted a picture of dysfunctional learning environments where some struggled to grasp lessons or participate in group work; many said they struggled with assignments, often working twice as hard just to pass.

Former RMIT undergraduate student Olivia Zhou said the issue was rampant in her classes.

“If a student in the class can’t even understand what the teacher is saying, how can they finish their assignment,” she told the ABC.

Lu Yi who studied her masters in media at RMIT in 2016 said “language is a big problem” while adding that international students often felt discouraged or uncomfortable speaking English in a classroom setting.

“They [Chinese] don’t talk to local students because they think the local students don’t want to talk to them, and then they tend to get in to small [cliques] at university,” she said.

‘Too many students slipping through the cracks’

For international students to study at Australian universities, they must first pass an industry recognised language test — there are at least five, but by far the most common is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

The IELTS test returns a score of 1-9 in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, with a final score based on an average the four.

The majority of university courses accept IELTS scores between 6 and 7, however, according to IELTS, scores in this range still require more study before university entry, or are at best only “probably acceptable”.

However, some students do not score even this high before arriving in Australia.

The Federal Government sets a minimum IELTS score of 5.5 to obtain a student visa, but it will also allow students who score as low as 4.5, so long as they enrol in a short English language pathway course before entering university.

These paid courses — called English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) — provide students with 10-20 weeks of intensive English lessons and assessments, and from there they go straight into a university course without having to re-sit tests like the IELTS.

Universities Australia said about 25 per cent of all international university students obtain their entry via this method.

One current IELTS test provider who spoke to the ABC on condition of anonymity, said they believed that international students need higher scores than those being set by the universities.

“They need higher than a six or even a 6.5, and if you’re doing something that’s very linguistically demanding, like law, journalism, or teaching, you often need a much higher score,” they said.

By the end of last year, continuing reports of international students struggling with English were beginning to alarm the Federal Government.

“Too many students are slipping through the cracks. Some just don’t have the English language skills they need to succeed,” then-education minister Simon Birmingham told an international education conference last year.

His solution was to change the regulation of some short courses, yet the changes were minimal and largely extended existing regulations to the vocational sector.

Little changed for the majority of students using ELICOS courses to get into university, and it did not affect the standards applied to the almost three quarters who enrolled straight into a difficult degree using IELTS or an equivalent test.
In The Conversation earlier this year, Amanda Muller, senior lecturer in Nursing and English at Flinders University, warned that the Federal Government’s changes had ignored those entering university directly who are left to “either sink or swim”.

“We hear a lot about those who sink, and some are driven to cheat,” she wrote. “The changes in regulation do not deal with these issues.”

A 2012 study into IELTS found that only some international students improved their English while studying at Australian universities, while other students’ English skills actually became worse the longer they studied.

International education expert Michael Fay said that English is one of the first quality controls for students that is vulnerable to lax standards.

“A lot of the time the people who are in charge of the policy don’t actually understand the English language issues well enough and assume that students are going to somehow, through osmosis, improve their English as they go along through the program,” he said.

Meanwhile, the managing director of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), Phil Honeywood, cautioned against raising English test scores arbitrarily.

“We’ve just increased the English language entry level into Nursing to a level that many Australian born people would not be able to reach,” he told the ABC.

“It’s ironic that to be an engineer in Australia, you only need to graduate with IELTS equivalent 6.5, but to be a nurse before you even start your study, let alone graduate, you have to have IELTS 7.”

In a statement to the ABC, the current Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, said international student language abilities were a matter for the universities.

“Universities are responsible for ensuring the students they enrol have the required language skills,” he said.

But he rejected claims there were any serious issues with the admission standards.

“You can judge the quality of Australia’s sector by the number of international students that we attract.”

Workplace exploitation, mental health issues, and racism

UNSW commerce student Annie — who preferred not to provide her last name — is an Australian-born Chinese domestic student and said she noticed a stark contrast between the experiences of domestic and international students.

“International students, especially from non-English speaking countries, do feel alienated in class,” she told the ABC.

“You will often see the domestic students hang one side and international students will hang on the other side [due to language barriers].”

Concerns about international student welfare also goes beyond learning outcomes and English proficiency — the students are often are exposed to financial stress, workplace exploitation, mental health issues, and racism, said Bijay Sapkota, president of the Council of International Students.

According to Mr Sapkota there is a lack of meaningful access to services that properly engage and support international students.

“International students have to go through a rigorous process to get help. They have to go through the student centre, then the international department, and then counselling services, and you know, [completing] all these applications while the student is going through a difficult situation with limited English is hard.”

However, universities and some industry bodies insist the aforementioned group of students constitutes a minority.

UNSW dean of engineering Mark Hoffman said he believes these claims of neglect can be overstated, and that at his university the reality is different.

“With international students everyone hones straight in on the language skills, but a lot of it has to do with culture and all sorts of things, which everybody faces in a new country,” he told the ABC.

“Their ability to communicate and work in groups improves significantly though the course of their study and we put [in place] structures [of support].

“If you scratch below the surface, you’ll find that the international and local students mix it up and what [demographic] they are doesn’t really make a difference.”

English language surveys struggle to capture reality

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson did not state whether she thought the current English language entry standards were appropriate, but said international students ultimately achieved similar results as Australian students.

“Australian universities’ English language entry standards are as robust as other leading higher education systems around the world,” Ms Jackson told the ABC in a statement.

In a statement to the ABC, RMIT rejected any suggestion it was allowing students with less than the appropriate levels of English into its courses.

“International students, in the same way as all students do, also need to meet English proficiency requirements to ensure they are set up for success,” it said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Sydney said it had plans to continue to grow its international student numbers and said its English language entry standards were appropriate.

“Our English language proficiency standards are similar to other [leading] universities and for some courses our IELTs requirements are higher,” she said in a statement.
Analysts said part of the problem is that universities and the Federal Government rely heavily on student surveys to measure satisfaction.

The main survey run by the Commonwealth Department of Education body — Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILTS) — is a voluntary online questionnaire in English, with 75 per cent of international students rating their overall experience as positive, just below domestic students at 79 per cent.

More significantly, the primary survey that tracks whether graduates are obtaining jobs and if they are relevant to their degrees, the annual Graduate Outcome Survey, only publishes data on domestic students — the results for international students are withheld from the public.

ABC requests to the Federal Department of Education to see the data were denied.
Various experts and observers told the ABC that many employers do not want to hire international students, and often ask for language test scores way beyond their capabilities — the short-term visas students are on also presents another obstacle.

Media academic Jenny Weight said that in her experience, Chinese international students with limited English were unlikely to take part in surveys and those that did would not be critical.

“Most of our international students were from China and they are not accustomed to expressing any sort of dissent or political opinion to any sort of authority figure,” she said.

“I know this because they have told me they do not feel comfortable putting their real opinion [in the surveys].”

Michael Fay founded one of Australia’s first programs for international students, Insearch at UTS, and now runs a consultancy specialising in South-East Asia.

He told the ABC that the methodology of these surveys and the sorts of questions being asked had to be taken into consideration.

“Some perhaps don’t want to ask the hard questions — if you start asking really deep questions, well a lot of organisations don’t want to give answers that are going to be problematic for them,” he said.

So who is responsible for overseeing standards?
International students fall under a confusing patchwork of state and federal regulation.

The primary body responsible for regulating the industry — the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) — is responsible for ensuring both ELICOS and university degree courses are compliant with a set of national standards around course content and assessment.

But its five full-time investigators have to police some 170 different course providers across all areas of higher education legislation, not just English courses.
According to its own annual reporting, it’s struggling to manage a backlog with hundreds of unresolved cases being carried over year to year.

As a result, it generally focuses more on smaller course providers and largely leaves universities alone as they are considered a low risk for non-compliance.

A spokesman for TEQSA told the ABC that on average it received 200 student complaints every year, however they were unable to say how many came from international students because up until 2017 they didn’t record whether the complainants were from domestic or international students.

And while TEQSA is intended to oversee course content and assessments, state-based ombudsmen are supposed to deal with administrative and student service complaints in the tertiary sector — such as enrolment or being unfairly removed from a course — while the Commonwealth Ombudsman is supposed to deal with vocational and private college issues.

But often the lines get blurred about which overseeing body is responsible for what sort of complaint, and students often wind up going to and filing complaints at the wrong place.

As far back as 2011, concerns were being raised on the record about international students.

In that year a Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation found that while some support services were helpful, they were often being used as a “substitute for proper admission standards” and “not engaging many of the students who are at risk and need assistance.”

‘People question the quality of Australian universities’

Associate professor Fran Martin from the University of Melbourne, who has taught and undertaken extensive research into international students, said these problems have been increasingly apparent for some time.

“Somehow universities are happy to take that [international student] income or need to take that income, but they are not proactively investing a significant amount of it back into improving the experience,” she told the ABC.

“It’s crazy that it’s got to this point.”

UNSW dean of engineering professor Mark Hoffman said his faculty makes substantial efforts to support students, but also said students also need to take some responsibility.

“We do offer a lot of programs, but a lot of it does come down to the students’ confidence to go and do those programs,” he said.

“Just giving people a web page and saying ‘if you have any trouble just go and do this’ it’s not necessarily going to get a response.

“But what we try and do is set in place an accommodating environment so that they feel more confident to explore those sorts of things.”

Xiaolan Tang is a former international student who now works in China recruiting local students for overseas study — she told the ABC that it’s becoming harder and harder to sell people on Australian degrees.

“People question the quality of Australian universities when students who get refused by top universities in other countries can still easily be accepted by the same level Australian universities,” she told the ABC.

“They think that the entry threshold for Australian universities is set quite low.”

Twenty nine-year-old Zhao Chen studied architecture at the University of Melbourne in 2014 and told the ABC that she found Australian universities’ admission standards weak.
“I felt that it was very easy to get accepted by a prominent Australian school because their entry requirement was very low,” she admitted.

“I had a feeling that I could get lots of offers easily.”

University of Melbourne’s Fran Martin says Australian degrees no longer have the cachet they once did in China.

“Even 10 years ago [an Australian degree] was something that might make you stand out — but now almost everyone it seems is going overseas for a degree,” she said.

“So it’s no longer so much of a stand out factor for employers.”








Canada’s immigration system has been a success. Here’s what Australia can learn from it

Canada’s immigration system has been a success. Here’s what Australia can learn from it

Immigration policy will be a critical issue in forthcoming state (Victoria, NSW) and federal elections. The disproportionate impact of immigration on population growth and public infrastructure in Sydney and Melbourne is the key issue.

If we look to the example of another immigrant-friendly country, Canada, however, we can see how giving states and territories a greater role in immigration target setting and selection can help take the pressure off major cities without drastically reducing immigration rates.

Immigration certainly impacts on Australia’s population to a greater degree than most Western nations. Among OECD countries, only Switzerland and Luxembourg have a higher percentage of foreign-born people than Australia.

Today, 28 per cent of the Australian population was born overseas. The key issue for Australia is that immigrants are more likely to live in large cities than smaller cities or regional areas. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 85 per cent of immigrants live in major urban areas, compared to just 64 per cent of Australian-born people.

Indeed, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Sydney is now equal-fourth in the world (with Auckland and Los Angeles) with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents (39 per cent), while Melbourne is not far behind (35 per cent). Nearly two-thirds of residents in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth have at least one parent who was born overseas.

A state-based approach?
The stress that rapid population growth has placed on Melbourne and Sydney has recently become a topic of much debate.

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to reduce the annual permanent immigration cap of 190,000. Australia accepted just 162,417 immigrants last year, the lowest level in a decade.

Mr Morrison has also called for a major rethink of the “top-down” approach to immigration in Australia, allowing states and territories to request the number of skilled migrants they’d like to admit each year.

The states and territories currently have a limited ability to nominate applicants for certain skilled visas. But state-nominated and regional visa approvals have fallen in recent years to just over 36,000 last fiscal year following tighter restrictions.

Mr Morrison wants to see a bigger role for states and territories:

What we can learn from Canada

The Canadian government gave provinces a say in setting targets and selecting economic immigrants — similar to Australia’s skilled migration intake — in the early 1990s. Quebec was first to receive a high degree of autonomy in the process — it was given the right to set its own level and selection criteria for all economic immigrants. (The ability to speak French was a must.)

Quebec was also granted the right to set all of its integration programs, funded by Ottawa every year. The payments reached C$540 million this fiscal year, or C$13,500 for each newcomer.

After Quebec was given this authority, the other Canadian provinces demanded the same. But they received far more limited rights than Quebec. They can nominate the number of economic migrants they need as part of the national immigration target set by the federal government, but they can’t independently set their intake target and selection criteria like Quebec.

While provinces nominate — or in Quebec’s case, decide — annual intakes, all cases are still routed through Ottawa for application integrity testing and vetting for criminality, health and security. Ultimately, final approval rests with Ottawa.

Last year, the Canadian government set an ambitious target of admitting 1 million total immigrants from 2018-2020. The target for next year is 330,000 immigrants, of which about 190,000 will be economic migrants. The remainder will enter under the family reunification category and the refugee, humanitarian and protected category.

About one-third of the economic migrants (61,000) will be admitted through the Provincial Nominee Program. This figure excludes Quebec, which will set its numbers separately.

How the Canadian system encourages rural immigration

Giving the provinces a greater immigration policy role has helped to dramatically shift the settlement of immigrants beyond Canada’s biggest cities.

According to immigration statistics, 34 per cent of economic migrants in 2017 landed in destinations outside Canada’s three most populous provinces, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia — compared to just 10 per cent in 1997.

After immigrants arrive, the key issue for the provinces is retention, since immigrants can leave at any time.

The provinces put a strong emphasis on ensuring that economic migrants receive a strong welcome on arrival and are provided with support programs, including education, access to local migrant community networks and assistance finding a job for those who are not sponsored by employers.

One of the biggest success stories of the Provincial Nominee Program is thinly populated Manitoba, which has added 130,000 migrants since 1998. Ninety percent have gotten a job within a year of arriving and nearly the same number has ended up staying in Manitoba permanently. New arrivals also express some of the greatest feelings of belonging of all immigrants in western Canada.

Why this could work in Australia

South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory — as well as other regional and rural areas across Australia — want more immigrants and refugees.

Attracting immigrants to less populated states is the easy part: those willing to settle outside Sydney and Melbourne can receive more points if they are skilled migrants, possibly making the difference as to whether they come to Australia or not. The key issue is retention.

My fieldwork with refugees in Australia has shown that the majority of these migrants love living in regional communities and have received a warm welcome from locals. Our research also found they are willing to stay in regional areas if they can get jobs there. Another way of encouraging more immigrants to settle in regional areas could be to offer them priority in the family reunion process.

Importantly, Canada also doesn’t politicise immigration policy. Australia should follow Canada’s lead by giving the states a bigger seat at the immigration policy table and resisting the temptation to blame immigration for complex growth problems in our overcrowded cities.

Reducing the immigration intake cap will have no significant impact on reducing congestion or strain on public infrastructure in Sydney and Melbourne, but it could severely constrain economic growth.

Jock Collins is a professor of Social Economics at UTS Business School. This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

New laws will strip Australian extremists of citizenship

New laws will strip Australian extremists of citizenship

Extremists will be stripped of their Australian citizenship and potentially deported under proposed new laws outlined by the government today.

Australians convicted of terrorism offences could be stripped of their citizenship and deported as long as the Home Affairs minister is “reasonably satisfied” they are citizens of another nation, under changes announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.

The prime minister said he wanted the sweeping reforms passed by Christmas, in the final parliamentary sitting weeks of 2018, meaning opposition and crossbench MPs will only get two weeks to consider the laws.

The reforms would significantly lower the bar for deportation. Currently, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton can only strip citizenship from those with a prison sentence of more than six years for a terror offence.
Under the changes, any conviction would be enough. And the minister would only need to be “reasonably satisfied” they were citizens of another country.

Revocation of citizenship has been reserved for dual-citizens to make sure Australia does not render a person stateless.

“The current wording of the law, we believe is unrealistic,” Mr Morrison said.

“Terrorists have violated everything about being what an Australian is all about. It’s a crime against our country, not just other citizens,” he said.

“This is something that can’t be tolerated, and for those who would engage in this sort of activity, and they have citizenship elsewhere, and we have reason to believe they do, they can go. That is the message.”

The government will also push for changes to how it deals with citizens who try to return to Australia after fighting with a terrorist organisation overseas.

It will seek a new regime of ‘temporary exclusion orders’, where it will be a crime for them to return unless the government explicitly orders it.

Once in Australia, the exclusion orders will allow the government to “impose controls” like an obligation to report regularly to police, obey curfews and not use certain technology.

Earlier, Mr Dutton said there were plans to deport deport terrorists who are entitled to citizenship in another country.

“You can take citizenship away from somebody as long as you don’t render them stateless,” Mr Dutton told on Thursday.

“We’ve cancelled visas at a record rate so that we can kick criminals out of the country, and we should be cancelling citizenship of terrorists and people that would seek to do us harm, because we don’t want them here.”

The hardline plan could face Constitutional risks, as it is illegal to render somebody stateless. Some countries do not recognise dual nationalities, while others would automatically recognise citizenship when a person has been stripped of their Australian ties.

The two major parties have a tradition of bipartisanship on national security matters, and Labor said it would consider the details of the plan through the cross-party Intelligence committee.

“Labor supported the changes to the Citizenship Act in 2015 which delivered existing powers to strip those convicted of certain terror offences of their Australian citizenship,” shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said.

“Labor always puts the safety of Australians first and approaches national security in a bipartisan manner. There is nothing more important than keeping Australians safe, and we will always listen to the advice of our security agencies on what they require to keep Australians safe.”

“We will examine this legislation on its merits through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security process, once it is presented.”

News Corp earlier reported the majority of the 400 terrorists being monitored by ASIO are either dual citizens or could be dual citizens, based on the birthplaces of their parents or grandparents.

And yet, only six dual-national terrorists have been stripped of their Australian citizenship.

Liberal MP Jason Wood, who chairs a parliamentary committee on migration, is fed up.

“If you’ve put your hand up to say you uphold the rights and responsibility of Australian citizenship, but the next minute you want to talk jihad all day, it’s a breach of contract and you need to go,” he told.

Liberal MP Michael Sukkar also believes it needs to be easier to revoke the citizenship of people “who represent a threat to our values”.

“A good place to start would be to expand the scope of deportation to include terrorist sympathisers,” Mr Sukkar said.

“This should include those on a security agency watch list, as well as people who repeatedly associate with known terrorists.”

It’s still worth it for overseas students to study in Australia, but universities could be doing more

It’s still worth it for overseas students to study in Australia, but universities could be doing more

For years, it has been predicted the increasing number of students flowing into the graduate jobs market would result in falling salaries, underemployment, and students taking on second and third degrees to get an edge in the competitive jobs marketplace.

But what of students who spend upwards of A$200,000 on obtaining a degree in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States or Europe? Many students come to Australia from overseas and pay full market rates – A$100,000 is a very conservative estimate for fees alone, with costs of living on top of that – for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Until now, we’ve known relatively little about how they fare when they return home and if there’s been a valuable return on their substantial investment. New research from the International Alumni Job Network (IAJN) reveals the return on investment for an international education is still positive for international students, and they’re generally also positive about the experience.

But it’s in the best interest of individual universities to actively work with businesses in home countries to help secure job prospects for graduates. Some universities currently do this, but most do not.

How many students study abroad?

According to the Institute of International Education, each year over 5 million students study abroad. Of them, more than a million go to the US. Australia is currently the third-largest destination country, but federal education minister Dan Tehan recently predicted Australia will overtake the UK in 2019.

Each year, the numbers increase in a seemingly unstoppable flow of students seeking an overseas degree as the passport to a better life. In Australia alone, the figures are breathtaking, with a 17% increase in just one year to be now valued at A$34 billion to the Australian economy.

Meanwhile media reports – and common sense – suggest the graduate employment market in some source countries is contracting, due to a number of factors. These include increasing inflows of internationally educated graduates, and improvements in higher education provision at home.

The China Daily, for example, reported last year that in 2007, 1.44 million students left China to study overseas, with 440,000 returning after graduation. In 2016, 5.45 million students left and 4.33 million returned home. Another 666,000 were set to return home in 2017 and compete for jobs with the 7.97 million freshly minted graduates from Chinese universities.

Return on investment

The IAJN survey covered alumni who originated from and returned to eight Asian regions: China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Respondents studied in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand or Europe.

The survey found, thankfully, the vast majority of students were more than satisfied with their international experience. In general, Indonesians were the most positive about their international experience (92%) and Indians the least positive (75%). Some 86% of Thai students thought international education was important, compared with 64% of Indians.

When it comes to satisfaction with return on investment, things get a little skewed. More than 70% of returned alumni were satisfied with the return on investment, with the exception of Indonesia (67%) and India (a lowly 46%).

Obviously, the reasons are far from straightforward. We hypothesise the responses are based on where students are getting their pre-enrolment information. We suspect using agents and university websites as the primary source of information may be too steeped in marketing hype and not enough in reality. By contrast, students who received their information by word of mouth from family, friends and other alumni were much more realistic in their expectations of studying abroad.

Graduate incomes

This study used US dollars to calculate the average wage of returned graduates because it’s the best benchmark.

In terms of income, the story is also mostly a positive one. While half of all returnees earned less than US$1,000 per month (A$1,411 per month or A$19,930 per year) in their first job, 33% reported earning more than US$4,001 per month (or A$67,729 per year).

Returns on investment depend very much on where students come from and how their earnings on return compare with their locally educated compatriots. For example, the average monthly wage of a Vietnamese-educated local is just US$175 a month and US$343 for Indonesians. On the other hand, locally educated graduates from Singapore and Hong Kong earn on average US$1,966 and US$1,722 per month respectively.

As expected, earnings growth accelerates over time. Some 40% of returned alumni earned more than US$10,000 per month (A$170,000 per year). Although we must take account of the fact some alumni responding to the survey gained their degrees more than two decades ago and were part of a relatively elite group who travelled overseas for study at that time.

On the downside, 30% of PhD graduates reported currently earning less than US$500 per month. One would assume this is a result of gender and age (such as for child bearing women). But within three to seven years, most graduates witness healthy salary increases, also as one would expect.

Attitudes towards Australian Go8 universities

The IAJN was also able to break down attitudes of students who attended a Group of Eight university (UWA, Monash, UNSW, ANU, the University of Melbourne, UQ, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Sydney). Responses to other individual universities were too small to be meaningful. According to the survey, there was little financial benefit from studying at a Go8 university (compared to a non-Go8 university) for a first job. The ANU provided the best returns on investment over time.

Monash and UNSW had the highest satisfaction with return on investment at 75%. Sydney alumni also downplayed the role their international education had on their subsequent career (69% satisfaction compared to 84% at ANU and Monash). The dynamics behind these sorts of statistics will be up to individual universities to analyse and understand.

But the survey found Sydney University had the highest rate (15%) of alumni earning more than US$10,000 a month in their first job. Somewhat ironically, Sydney also registered the lowest satisfaction with return on investment (62%) – perhaps a culmination of high fees and the cost of living in Sydney.

Obviously, it’s in the interests of individual universities to actively work with businesses in home countries to help secure job prospects for graduates. The power of word of mouth and social networks should not be undermined.

The value of the international education sector might have hit an all-time high, but there’s pressure on individual universities to do their best to ensure graduates get a genuine return on their massive investment in their education abroad.


Visa squeeze on families and skilled workers under Morrison’s population pitch

Visa squeeze on families and skilled workers under Morrison’s population pitch

Families and skilled workers are being targeted in a hard line on visa approvals that could drive Australia’s permanent migration intake below 160,000 new residents next year, as the Morrison government prepares a crucial election pitch on population and congestion.

Aspiring migrants are being forced to wait longer for decisions on family reunion and other visa programs, in a tougher approach that has kept permanent migration well below the 190,000 cap of previous years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is preparing a significant policy to be unveiled early next year after he meets state and territory leaders on December 12 to discuss ways to cut arrivals in Sydney and Melbourne while encouraging them in other regions.

The government will not adjust its official migration cap in the mid-year budget update next month but is facing a potential $1.9 billion cost over four years when it goes ahead with the lower intake in its election plan next year.

In a dramatic new stance on population policy, Mr Morrison declared on Monday that Australians were telling him “enough, enough, enough” on population growth because their roads were clogged and their buses were full.

While Mr Morrison raised the idea of cutting the permanent intake by 30,000 a year, some within the government believe a bigger cut will be possible based on current trends.

“It could go lower,” said one source of the mooted 160,000 target, while another cautioned that the government wanted to hear from state premiers next month before deciding where to make any cuts.

Immigration Minister David Coleman said the policy would be shaped by the “carrying capacity” of different regions, but he played down cuts to the skilled worker intake or the overseas students at Australian universities.

“We do have this anomaly at the moment where we’ve got very high levels of growth and congestion in Sydney and Melbourne and south-east Queensland, and then I’ve got people in my office from regional Australia saying ‘we want more migration’,” Mr Coleman said.

Employers have sponsored about 48,000 of the permanent migrants in previous years in a visa category that is being shielded from significant cuts, given the concern about a hit to the economy if companies lose skilled workers.

“Anything we do in this space will have a very, very sharp focus on skilled migration,” Mr Coleman said.

The government is looking closely at whether to tighten the rules on a separate 44,000 permanent migrants who enter Australia in a “skilled independent” program, where newcomers get residency on a points system without having any employer sponsorship.

The family stream is also being examined because it makes up about 57,000 of the intake forecast in a discussion paper issued on the intake for this financial year.

Former Immigration Department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi told Fairfax Media the government was on track to keep permanent migration down this financial year, in line with the intake of 162,417 in the year to June 30.

“That will require the government to again artificially hold back visa grants in the family stream and spouses in particular,” Mr Rizvi said.

Families could bear the brunt of the change because spouse visas make up 47,825 of the projected intake but would have to fall significantly to achieve the government’s objectives.

A Labor analysis suggests that waiting times for spouse visas keep getting longer, with the wait time for 90 per cent of applicants stretching out from 22 months last November to 24 months.

The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme has seen similar delays, with 90 per cent of applicants waiting 19 months according to statistics last December but now waiting 24 months.

The fact that fewer applicants gain permanent residency does not necessarily mean fewer people are in Australia, given that so many applicants are already in the country on other visas while they wait for decisions.

The Labor analysis suggests the number of migrants on bridging visas was 197,798 people in September, up by 85,000 since the government took office in 2013.

Overseas students are not counted in the permanent migration intake but can be included in a different measure, net overseas migration, which includes any visitors who stay for 12 months or more during a period of 16 months. Net overseas migration increased by 27 per cent to 262,500 in the year to June 2017.

Mr Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have held sharply different views on the migration program over the past year, while former prime minister Tony Abbott has called for a cut in the permanent intake to 110,000.

Mr Morrison said in February said he expected the intake to moderate but that Mr Abbott’s target would cost the budget between $4 billion and $5 billion over the next four years.

“But a permanent cut to the permanent intake, it’s very hard to look at the data and see that that’s actually the problem,” Mr Morrison said in February.

Mr Rizvi told Fairfax Media that the Prime Minister’s own estimates suggested that a cut of 30,000 would cost the budget $1.87 billion on a pro-rata basis.
Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said the Prime Minister’s latest declaration was a “cheap trick designed to get a headline” when there was a blowout in the number of people in the country on bridging visas.

“Morrison’s record is clear. He locked in Australia’s annual permanent migration intake at 190,000 during his time as immigration minister and then as treasurer. If he was wrong about that, he should explain why he was wrong,” Mr Neumann said.

“Labor has said we will work with the government on a bipartisan solution because we believe Australia’s population policy should be above politics.”


‘Migrants to the bush’ exposed as regional visas hit decade low

‘Migrants to the bush’ exposed as regional visas hit decade low

The Morrison Government’s ‘migrants to the bush’ smokescreen has been comprehensively exposed with regional migration approvals hitting a decade low.

Regional visa approvals have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade as the Federal Government prepares to introduce a scheme requiring new arrivals to work outside the major cities for five years…

State-specific and regional visa approvals fell to 36,250 places in 2017-18, according to new figures published by the Government.

John Hourigan, the president of the Migration Institute of Australia, said recent restrictions have effectively phased out key parts of the existing regional scheme.

Visas approved for the regional sponsored migration scheme have fallen from 20,510 five years ago to 6,221 last year…

Mr Hourigan, who spent two decades in the Immigration Department, said adjustments to the points system used to approve visas had been a “game changer” for migration levels.

“That now means that basically everyone has to have proficient English — there are not many ways former overseas students can get to 65 points otherwise,” he said.

A Home Affairs Department spokesperson said the changes had resulted in fewer, but higher quality, visa applications.

“The Department of Home Affairs has recently introduced significant reforms to strengthen the quality of skilled visa applications, including the regional sponsored migration scheme,” the spokesperson said.

“These include enhanced legislation on labour market testing, lowering of the qualifying age, enhanced qualifications and experience.”

This is no bad thing. State-based migration programs have been systemically rorted, with migrants temporarily settling in places like the ACT and Tasmania purely to get the required number of points for permanent residency before moving to Sydney and Melbourne.

Moreover, we are continually told that migrants come to the big cities because that’s where the jobs are and in order to relieve so-called ‘skills shortages’ (a lie in itself). So where is the logic in sending them to regions where there are no jobs? Doesn’t this defeat the whole purpose of having so-called ‘skilled’ migration?

That said, these figures do show the lunacy of the Morrison Government’s ‘migrants to the bush’ policy, which Scott Morrison himself slammed when the former Gillard Government proposed such a scheme in 2010-11.

Instead, the immigration program has become more centralised that ever, with 94% of migrants last financial year settling in the cities, and 86% settling in just Sydney and Melbourne alone.

We don’t need more policy gimmicks. The immigration intake needs to be normalised back to historical levels

No takers for thousands of Australian permanent residency visas

No takers for thousands of Australian permanent residency visas

While thousands struggle to meet the requirements for Australian permanent residency, some in-demand trade occupations are seeing very low, or even no applications at all.

Australia is among the most sought-after immigration destinations across the world with tens of thousands of people trying their luck to migrate down under every year as skilled migrants. While many skills are experiencing long queues of visa applicants, there are some that have found absolutely no takers at all.

Of the 190,000 permanent visas that Australia plans to issue every year, nearly 70 per cent is reserved for skilled migrants.

Under the skilled stream migration, prospective migrants are required to nominate an occupation from the relevant occupation list depending upon the kind of visa they apply for. For the skilled independent visa (subclass 189) – a permanent visa allowing indefinite stay and giving the freedom to live and work anywhere in Australia – all applicants file an expression of interest; and based on their points test score, the Department of Home Affairs then issues them an invite to apply for a visa.

This permanent visa has nearly 44,000 places reserved in Australia’s annual immigration planning.

Some occupations such as accountants and IT professionals are so popular that due to a high volume of applications, the Department has introduced pro-rata arrangements, whereas, in some other occupations, no invites were issued during the last financial year.
Out of the total 73 occupations that are subject to a ceiling, at least six were such that did not have a single invite issued in 2017-18.

Wall and floor tilers, automotive electricians, electrical distribution trade workers, boat builders and shipwrights, precision metal trade workers and livestock farmers together account for 9,603 visa places.

Sheet metal trade workers, cabinet makers, glaziers, panel beaters and barristers and some health diagnostic and promotion professionals – together accounting for over 5,300 visa places – saw just one applicant receiving an invite for each of the six occupations.

Most visa applicants with trades occupations prefer to take other routes to Australian permanent residency.

In order for subclass 189 visa applicants to succeed, they require relatively higher levels of English proficiency, work experience and educational qualifications. In most cases, applicants with these occupations would prefer a sponsored visa that would get them additional points to meet the minimum requirements.

A majority of the migrants are from India – a country that’s currently the biggest source of permanent migrants and Australian citizens.

While it can be an express route to permanent residency for applicants with the necessary skills, experience and English proficiency, some occupations are more popular than others among Indian migrants.

The choice of occupations depends on the ease of doing the course and then the ability of the students to find an employer because most of them would look to gain post-study work experience and then employer sponsorships to make up for any gap in the points requirement.