Limits suggested on foreign students
By Dan Harrison
The Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, 2009
Colleges could face limits on how many foreign students they enrol, or how many students they take from a single country, under possible changes to the laws governing Australia's $15 billion international education industry.
The proposals are floated in an issues paper released yesterday as part of a review of the industry's legal framework being conducted by the former Liberal MP Bruce Baird.
The paper says that ''a heavy concentration of international students, particularly from a single country'' could lead to a poorer student experience, and the review was an opportunity to consider whether a ''regulatory mechanism for ensuring diversity'' would be desirable.
Andrew Smith, the chief executive of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, expressed scepticism about the idea.
''We've got a pretty robust set of standards at the moment and what we need to concentrate on is making sure we enforce those standards properly, before we start looking for new rules,'' he said.
''The other thing that we have to be very careful of is getting too far into the business of dictating to people how they will operate their business.''
Glenn Withers, the chief executive of Universities Australia, said a lack of diversity in the student body was not often a problem for universities, but that the problems in other parts of the industry had the potential to do damage to Australia's reputation as a study destination.
Dr Withers said the review should consider ''lighter touch'' approaches such as partnerships between colleges, work experience and social activities, to allow different students to mix, before creating new regulation.
The issues paper also says the ability of present consumer protection mechanisms to support students' interests is ''questionable'', and raises the issue of whether it should be made easier for students to change providers.
International education is worth about $15.5 billion a year to the Australian economy, and is the nation's third largest export industry, after coal and iron ore. Negative publicity about a series of violent attacks on international students and allegations of corrupt practices by some colleges have sparked fears about the future of the sector.
A Department of Immigration and Citizenship official told a Senate committee hearing last week that the department's figures showed a decline in student visa applications from India compared to last year.
Mr Baird has called for submissions by October 30. He will present an interim report to a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments in November before delivering a final report early next year.