Universities Being Used As Immigration Factories

March 30, 2006: Universities Being Used As Immigration Factories

Universities being used as immigration 'factories'
By John Garnaut (The Sydney Morning Herald–www.smh.com.au)
March 30, 2006

“SHOPFRONT” universities are acting more like immigration facilitators than educators, a Monash University study has found.

The higher education export market has struggled recently, with “sandstone” universities such as the University of NSW losing students from eastern and South-East Asia.

But regional universities with Sydney and Melbourne campuses are increasing overseas student numbers – thanks largely to what the study calls aspiring migrants from South Asia.

Michiel Baas, an anthropologist, says in this month's People and Place journal that Indian students are flocking to low-ranking universities because they view them as “permanent residency factories”.

“The most important reason why they come to Australia is not because they rank Australian universities very highly but much more because they are attracted by the option of applying for permanent residency after graduation,” the study says.

Others, originally motivated by education, end up applying for residency as compensation for a poor education.

“A permanent residency visa for them is a form of compensation for something they feel they have not received (a sound education) but for which they have paid a lot of money,” the study says.

Mr Baas argues that institutions are tailoring courses to fit migration criteria and overseas recruiters are doubling as immigration agents.

His study is based on intensive interviews with 130 Indian students in Australia and 100 others connected to those students. It says about three in every four Indian students who completed their studies in 2003 obtained permanent residence visas.

Many of them are people who have not found a place in India's booming economy, it says.

While numbers in 2003-04 declined or stabilised for students from Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, the number of Indian students grew 44.6 per cent from the previous year.

Bob Birrell, director of Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, said the “shopfront” trade was coming at the expense of quality universities.

“In the last three or four years we've seen a new market emerge which is primarily immigration-oriented,” he said.

“It is dominated by lower-price universities who have set up shopfront campuses in the major cities. The universities of Central Queensland and Ballarat are the ones that have been most aggressive in that market – they charge fees about half as high as the University of Sydney or Monash for masters students.”

Universities hit back at Dr Birrell and Mr Baas's report last night.

“Bob Birrell is wrong,” said Professor John Rickard, vice-chancellor at the Central Queensland University.

He said course fees were more expensive than Dr Birrell claimed and the NSW Government had confirmed the institution's high standards.

A spokesman for the University of Ballarat said: “All of our courses are of a high quality and we refute any suggestion that they are sub-standard.”