Unis to Minister: Leave international numbers to ATEC

Universities Australia calls the government plan for university and course caps on international enrolments, “rushed responses to issues the Government wants to address ahead of the next Federal Election.”

“It is short-sighted to blame international students for housing availability and affordability issues,” UA argues.

UA will accept regulation of international student numbers, but wants it delayed to 2026, when the new Australian Tertiary Education Commission will be in place.

“More time for planning and implementation is needed,” UA argues; making it plain that it prefers ATEC to be in control.

“The intimation that intervention from the Minister for Education is required to fix the system within the university and TAFE context is not warranted, nor will it be constructive for the sector. 

“It is important to note that these proposed changes coincide with the Accord process, which is delivering the most significant reforms in a generation.”

The lobby warns that visa cost increases already in place will create a $500m shortfall for universities this year, put 4500 jobs “at risk” and threaten the viability of regional universities.

Other UA asks include:

  • Caps at whole-of-institution level. “A Ministerial intervention at the course level is overreach and would have serious consequences for established practices of institutional autonomy, existing regulations and student choice.” The Government appears to have already conceded this. Last week Education Minister Jason Clare described authority to set course numbers as a “reserve power.” 
  • Separate regulation for universities and TAFE. Presumably given public VET has low international numbers UA may mean private colleges as well.
  • Caps based on university circumstances, “financial position, employment profile, infrastructure costs and other obligations associated with running a complex organisation.”

IRU universities also released their response to the International Educational and Skills Strategic Framework, siding with UA in supporting the principle of managed growth as long as it is negotiated with ATEC

The IRU has been disproportionately and unfairly impacted by changes to student visa processing since December 2023. This has entrenched inequity across the sector, undermined diversification and reduced enrolments in courses relevant to Australia’s skills shortages. This highlights the risk of rushing changes to the international education system,” IRU Executive Director Paul Harris said.

The IRU disagreed with Ministerial powers for cancelling or setting enrolment limits on individual courses and said priority groups – such as HDR and exchange students – should be excluded from any caps.

“International education is an Australian success story,” he said. “It has delivered significant social, economic and cultural benefits to students and to the nation over decades.”

“We support a continued focus on quality and integrity, but further changes to policy and legislation must be targeted, evidence-based and carefully communicated. The draft Framework as written risks damaging Australia’s global reputation for quality and innovation.

UA CEO Mr Luke Sheehy urged the Government to give more careful consideration to reforms, to avoid ‘unintended consequences’.

UA has been out making its case to the crossbench, notably policy-focused senator for the ACT, David Pocock. The politically well-connected UA CEO Mr Sheehy is in touch with Labor and Liberal machines with a direct political message that jobs will go with the present plan. “With both major parties already campaigning on their economic credentials, job losses in marginal seats, of which many of our universities sit in, don’t bode well for local MPs.” Mr Sheehy said.



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