Both sides of politics deterring international students says Group of Eight
From: The Australian
September 10, 2010 12:00AM
THE elite universities have condemned both sides of politics for giving a “green light to intolerance” during the election campaign
The Group of Eight research-intensive universities yesterday said Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott needed to make a “major statement” championing international education, warning that Australia's image as a welcome destination for international students has been damaged.
The universities said “it wasn't good enough” for Immigration Minister Chris Evans to say, as he did on Wednesday, that the federal government valued and was committed to international education.
“This is about an open society that values ideas and thinking people, but we just had an election campaign that doesn't present Australia as a thinking society and an open one,” the group's executive director Michael Gallagher told The Australian.
He said the election rhetoric from both sides had “effectively licensed intolerance”.
“Their messages were geared to domestic audiences, but they resonated with international audiences too,” the Group of Eight 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.”
The universities urged the Prime Minister and Education Minister Simon Crean to put priority on a trip to China, Australia's biggest student market, in an effort to shore up our reputation.
Australia's $18 billion international education industry is facing a major downturn as a government crackdown on immigration fraud and dodgy private vocational colleges exacerbates a tough market hit by the strong Australian dollar and rising competition from Britain and the US. The sector complains that the tighter visa rules have been too heavy-handed and are hitting legitimate students.
Ed Byrne, vice-chancellor of Group of Eight member Monash University, warned that the sector was facing “massive collateral damage” and called for “hugely urgent” action.
He said a student from China accepted to study at an Australian university now faced having to keep about $150,000 in a bank account for six months to cover three years of living costs and tuition fees before they could get a visa; the same student in Britain would need to prove they had $35,000.
Mr Crean said he would respond to issues being raised by the sector but the government's changes were refocusing the industry on quality courses. He said university international commencements were continuing to grow.
“Despite the fact there has been a global financial crisis and a big exchange rate adjustment against Australia, which adds to the costs for these students, it is significant the universities' numbers have gone up,” Mr Crean said.
But the downturn has hit the English-language and vocational sectors, where commencements are down 23 per cent and 8.6 per cent respectively in the year to July. While the university sector remains up 5.6 per cent, it expects growth to be flat or reverse next year as the other sectors feed students into university.
On Wednesday, Mr Evans responded to a Group of Eight call for action to support the industry by noting that student visa applications of 291,128 last year were the third-highest on record.
But grants of student visas are dropping, largely driven by India, where Immigration targeted widespread fraud. In 2009-10, visa grants fell by 16 per cent, with the Indian numbers more than halving from 65,503 to 29,721.
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