Unis angry over visa rule changes
Sydney Morning Herald
September 10, 2010
AUSTRALIA'S leading research universities have lashed out at the federal government for failing to tackle problems caused by changes to student visa rules.
''We just went through an unedifying election where the leaders of the two main parties put up the 'not welcome here' sign in flashing lights,'' said Michael Gallagher, executive director of the so-called Group of Eight universities.
''Their messages were geared to domestic audiences but they resonated with international audiences too,'' he said.
''They have done damage to Australia's reputation abroad as a welcoming society that values ideas and diversity. They have a responsibility to rectify the problem.''
Mr Gallagher said a press release sent out by Immigration Minister Chris Evans earlier this week headed “Australia continues to welcome international students” was not an acceptable response.
Last week the Group of Eight wrote to the federal government and opposition seeking changes to the current visa system and asking for a statement of support from newly installed Prime Minister Julia Gillard about Australia's commitment to the international education sector.
Senator Evans's release blamed the Howard Government for ''a student program which failed to adequately detect fraudulent applications and lacked the necessary safeguards to ensure student visa holders were genuine and had sufficient financial support''.
He said the problems had led to an ''unsustainable explosion'' in the number of international students, and that the Labor government had to act.
''The reforms introduced by Labor were designed to target high-risk caseloads, deliver integrity and ensure only genuine students with the financial capacity to live and study in Australia are granted visas,'' he said.
But Mr Gallagher said Senator Evans needed to do more: ''If Senator Evans believes his media release is an adequate response then he just doesn't understand the nature of the problem.''
Mr Gallagher again called on Ms Gillard to publicly support the international education sector, which is Australia's third-largest export industry, worth $17 billion a year.
The comments came as the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) called on Ms Gillard to create a parliamentary secretary for international education. IEAA president Stephen Connelly said the government needed to increase its support of the sector.
“The crucial need is for higher level political oversight over the industry.
''The current situation – where five Commonwealth departments have responsibility for aspects of international education – is untenable and must be addressed,'' he said.
Mr Connelly said if the decline in student numbers was not reversed the sector faced job losses of up to 35,000 by the end of next year.