Migration change – first salvo or fix?

The Albanese Government’s new migration policy aims to rein in the number of new international students, with a series of measures which will mostly hit the VET sector hardest.

Regional universities, which already struggle to cleave international students from the bright lights of a city study stay, are likely to also suffer some reduced demand, but overall, the University sector has begrudgingly accepted the changes – perhaps recognising that any policy launch with the business council and ACTU standing on stage to jointly applaud is going to be tough to beat.

The big question is whether the Migration Strategy will effectively stem the tide of incoming students by weeding out visa manipulators with a Genuine Student Test, tougher English language tests and tougher post-study work right regulations, and a handful of other initiatives. This appears to remain a question also for the Government, which has reserved the right to introduce some form of international student caps if numbers don’t drop sufficiently.

A record 860,000 international students are enrolled in Australian education this year, with just under half enrolled in universities. While the latest wave of changes will surprise few, the big concern for the sector is whether it will face additional regulation on international student enrolments in the near future, alongside a range of other interventionist approaches forecast in the Accord.

If ever there was a doubt that the University sector had categorically failed to convince Australians of the value of international students in enriching classrooms, enhancing our workforce and networking our economy, this announcement should be the final nail in the coffin.

“Importantly, the strategy acknowledges how vital international education is to the economy and Australia’s prosperity. It makes us tens of billions of dollars each year, supports tens of thousands of jobs and helps pay for the essential services all Australians rely on,” Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said, welcoming the policy.

“We welcome further measures to preserve the integrity and strength of the education system while protecting students from unscrupulous operators seeking to exploit them for personal gain.”

Overall, the new Migration Policy has been widely welcomed, with UA saying it had worked closely with the government and adding at the end of its statement that international students were valued.

“Universities Australia has engaged deeply with government on the development of the migration strategy and will continue to do so through its implementation as we all work toward a better migration system that underpins a flourishing multicultural nation,” Ms Jackson said.

Higher Education policy expert Professor Andrew Norton said that the migration policy changes were well thought through, but would “make life more difficult for universities relying on migration-motivated international students.”

“Regional study … is deemed a ‘poor predictor’ of labour market success. This is potentially significant for regional universities,” Professor Norton writes.

However, the Regional Universities Network welcomed the migration reforms, with Executive Director of RUN Alec Webb saying his team would be working with the Government on permanent skilled migration and regional migration discussion papers in 2024.

International education researcher Professor Ly Tran noted that the maximum age for a temporary graduate visa will be reduced by 15 years to 35. “This is unreasonable and will make many (if not the majority of) international PhD graduates ineligible for temporary graduate visas,” Professor Tran noted.

“Irony as these graduates hold the highest qualification and great potential to contribute to Australia.”



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