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The Implementation of the Knight Review's 41 recommendations has been welcomed by Australian universities, which say “quality” is the key to the long-term future of Australia’s international education sector, writes Sophie Loras.
Australian universities have welcomed the government response to the Knight Review – after it agreed to implement all 41 of the report’s recommendations.
Key recommendations in the Strategic Review of the Student Visa Program 2011, will see the Australian government introduce new streamlined visa processing arrangements for international students enrolled in courses at the level of bachelor degree or higher by mid-2012. The changes will allow international students, regardless of their country of origin, to be treated as “low risk” – similar to the current Assessment Level 1 requirements.
As a result, international students studying for a bachelor degree or higher, could see a reduction of as much as A$36,000 in the amount required as a deposit to demonstrate they have the financial capacity to live and work in Australia. Currently, financial accountability for ‘high risk’ countries include Australia’s top two international student markets – China and India.
International students will no longer need to sit language tests for visa purposes and a two-to four-year post-study work visa will also be available for university graduates depending on the level of study completed.
“Students are increasingly looking to augment their studies with graduate work experience and this further post-study work visa option will offer university students a more complete study experience in Australia,” said Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations.
Former NSW Minister, Michael Knight was commissioned by the Australian government in December 2010 to review the student visa program and to look at ways of enhancing the quality and competitiveness of Australia's international education sector.
In compiling his report, Mr Knight consulted with almost 300 stakeholders in Australia, India, China and Malaysia, and considered more than 200 submissions.
Key recommendations are expected to come into effect by mid-2012.
“The reforms will assist in ensuring Australia remains an attractive study option and will offer practical support for international education providers that have been under pressure as a result of the high Australian dollar,” Mr Evans said.
Professor Paul Greenfield, Chair of Go8, which represents eight of Australia’s top universities – including The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and ANU – said the group welcomed the government’s positive response to the review. He commended Mr Knight for identifying “quality" as the key to a sustainable international education sector.
“The review has recognised that Australia’s universities are high quality, low risk providers, and changes to the risk framework send a clear message that Australian education providers are responsible for ensuring that they uphold quality,” Professor Greenfield said.
“Risk assessment that recognises high quality providers will be a sound basis for the sector’s future development.”
He said reformed student visa procedures, including less onerous financial requirements, would enable Australian universities to compete more effectively in the global market and new work visas for international graduates would further increase Australia’s attractiveness as a study destination.
‘‘These reforms will send a positive signal about Australia’s place in the world. The young people who spend time studying and working here will be lifelong friends to the Australian people, and some will become influential leaders and advocates for Australia,” Professor Greenfield said.
Universities Australia released a statement expressing similar sentiments.
“Universities value the role they play in helping to create Australia’s global future,” said Universities Australia CEO, Dr Glenn Withers.
“A strong and positive international program is a fundamental aspect of this mission and these positive changes to the international student visa program will help to support this goal. Strategic international engagement through collaborations, research, philanthropy and student exchange is crucial for a healthy and productive university sector,” he said.
Sunny Yang, Monash University’s Executive Director – Future Students and Office of Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President (Global Engagement), said the recommendations were a positive step for Australia’s international education sector.
“[Implementation of the Knight review] will bring some competitiveness back to the Australian international education industry in terms of attracting, selecting, admitting and retaining quality international students that many countries now compete for globally,” Ms Yang said.
“A country’s student visa and skilled migration policy is an important enabler for its international education industry development. Monash is very pleased with the Knight Review recommendations as well as the Government’s response.”
TAFE, private and vocational education sectors
Australia’s vocational training colleges and TAFE sector however have complained that universities are at an unfair advantage and will have to wait for the recommendations of a second report, scheduled for next year, to find out if their students will also be eligible for the new visa exemptions.
TAFE Directors Australia expressed concerns in the report of “an inherent bias towards universities in international education.”
It said the review singled out universities for special treatment when assessing student visa applications and ignored “all degree programs, whether delivered by universities, TAFEs or other higher education providers, are required to meet the same stringent requirements under the higher education protocols.”
The Australian Council for Private Education and Training, representing more than 1,000 members from Australian private higher education, vocational education, schools and English language colleges, expressed a number of concerns with the report, including the criteria used to determine whether a student was a genuine temporary entrant, the recommendation to move VET offshore and the proposal that only university graduates would have access to post-study work rights.
ACPET welcomed the suggestion from Senator Evans to trial a group of high quality private providers to access the streamlined visa processing arrangements.
“While the following year will provide many challenges to ACPET and its members, we are confident that our high quality providers will prove to the Australian Government and international students and their families that they are worthy of the same considerations as the university sector,” said Claire Field, ACPET CEO.
Gil Polglase, the CEO of Melbourne’s Lonsdale Institute, said he was concerned by the obvious advantages for the Australian university sector in light of the report.
“Many providers including private RTO’s and TAFE’s will be at a distinct disadvantage as the new streamlined visa processing arrangements for a range of Australian university courses mean faster, easier visa access for students enrolled at Bachelor degree or higher,” Mr Polglase said.
Lonsdale Institute, which provides course in Business and Accounting, relies heavily on the overseas student market.
“Any reduction in competitiveness will only serve to further destabilise the local VET industry and dampen Australia’s overall reputation as a leading provider of quality education at the vocational level.”
The NSW, Victorian and Queensland state governments have also got behind the VET sector, advocating the Federal government for post-study work rights to be made available to a students beyond university graduates.
Reaction to the report in China
In China, Australian Education International, the international arm of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, said the response had been positive.
AEI has been gauging Chinese reaction to the release of the Knight review through its Chinese language blog on Weibo.
AEI told Australia China Connections, comments on the report in China had been “overwhelmingly positive” – in particular, the proposed introduction of post-study work rights.
Respondents to the blog have compared the implementation of the Knight review to the recent announcement in Britain cancelling post-study work rights for some international students. "I regret going to the UK, as they just cancelled their post study work rights," wrote one Chinese student. Another wrote that the implementation of the Knight Review recommendations “takes away good students from Chinese Universities."
Agents in China have also commented to AEI on an increase in the number of enquiries from the parents of prospective students regarding study options in Australia.
Since the release of the report, AEI has monitored around 800 news articles mentioning key words “Knight”, “Australia” and “Student Visa” in the Chinese media. ■
* To read the report in full: www.immi.gov.au/students/knight/
Key highlights of the report to be implemented by the Australian Government:
• Allow all English language students to apply for a visa without first meeting minimum English skills requirements;
• Extend the time a PhD student can stay in Australia while their thesis is marked;
• Establish an Education Visa Consultative Committee to improve information flow between the Australian Government and the international education sector; and
• Repeal the automatic cancellation and mandatory cancellation provisions for student visas.