Review To Bring Overseas Study Industry To Account

Review to bring overseas study industry to account

Heath Gilmore and Nick O'malley
The Age
August 14, 2009

THE $15.5 billion international education industry is likely to shrink as shonky operators face their ''day of reckoning'', says the head of a Federal Government review into its future.

Former Liberal MP Bruce Baird, who has been charged with overhauling an industry beset by months of turmoil with violent attacks against students and allegations of corruption, said a contraction was possible over the short term, although he declined to speculate on the size.

Mr Baird said some educational institutions had been set up for the sole purpose of getting students permanent residency visas. He said Immigration Minister Chris Evans and his review into the law and regulations governing the international education industry, would examine ''decoupling'' the link between education and immigration. The review needed to address a ''market failure'', which had been covered extensively in the media.

''You could see shrinkage in the short term,'' he said. ''This review aims to rebuild (the reputation) of Australian providers and standards to ensure long-term growth. If you have a problem you go about excising it.''

The visa rorting system arose from shonky education institutions and migration and education agents taking advantage of a policy change by the Howard government in 2001 to allow overseas students in Australia to apply for permanent residency as skilled migrants. Mr Baird said he had supported these changes, adding the later consequences were unforseen, and a recent development.

Education Minister Julia Gillard last week appointed Mr Baird to head the review of the laws and regulations governing education services for overseas students. Mr Baird, the chairman of the advisory committee for the International College of Management at Manly, which has 1000 international students, was approached last week to head the review, which had been brought forward from 2010.

He has close ties to the Indian community after heading a parliamentary friendship group and being their Olympic team's attache during the Sydney 2000 Games. Ms Gillard has given him a wide brief to explore significant issues affecting the sector through submissions and public forums with students, state and territory government officials, regulatory bodies, education providers and diplomatic missions being held around the country.

An ombudsman and more defined representative groups to defend overseas students' interests have been floated as possible outcomes from the review.

Mr Baird said he wanted to speak with police about the violent attacks on Indians in Sydney and Melbourne being racially motivated, as well as students' general safety and wellbeing.

He said the inability to show conclusively whether students were disproportionately represented in victims of crime statistics was a problem for Australia in defending its international reputation. This included the lack of information about their death rates in Australia.

''Gathering such information could raise problems if you categorise people belonging to a particular race and the media use it,'' he said. ''It doesn't help to inclusiveness.''

An interim report is expected by November.