The Age | 20 August 2013
An Abbott government would make it easier for foreign students to obtain post-study work rights in Australia as part of a Coalition push to repair the lucrative education export industry.
Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the Coalition ”cannot promise to reverse the $2.8 billion of cuts to higher education”.
However he vowed to increase revenue to universities within 100 days of being elected by ”rebuilding” the international education market, which he said had shrunk under Labor from $19.8 billion in 2008 to $14.5 billion today. However, the contraction in the market has been concentrated in the VET sector.
Mr Pyne also flagged an Abbott government would extend post-study work visas to overseas students with qualifications from vocational colleges instead of only those with university degrees.
The Labor government said in 2011 it would expand post-study work rights, following the Knight review of Australia’s student visa program, commissioned in the wake of a sharp fall in enrolments from overseas due in part to the high Australian dollar and attacks on foreign students.
From March 23 this year, overseas students who complete a bachelor degree or higher at a university can qualify for a two to four-year post-study work visa.
However private colleges and TAFEs have complained this discriminates in favour of universities and has adversely affected foreign enrolments in vocational education and training.
Mr Pyne said there had been a proposal before the government for 18 months to allow more higher education institutions, including private providers, to grant post-study work visas.
But, he said, Labor had ”dropped good public policy … in favour of political decisions” by not granting overseas students more post-study visa rights while ”demonising” 457 visa holders.
”If we are fortunate to be elected we intend to try and quickly repair the international student market, to try and build that industry again,” Mr Pyne said.
Asked if the Coalition policy could lead to private colleges offering shonky courses purely as a way to residency, as had occurred in the past, Mr Pyne said that while there had been bad operators, he did not agree the system had been widely rorted. ”I think that is the rhetoric of the government,” he said.
A recent report by HSBC found Australia was the most expensive country in the world for foreign students, prompting calls for the next government to review Australia’s visa system and aggressively promote Australian education overseas.
The total number of overseas students had fallen almost 20 per cent since the peak of 472,214 in 2010, according to data from Australian Education International.
Australia’s international education activities generate more than $15 billion of export income a year, supporting more than 100,000 jobs.