I was the chief of the Students’ committee, formed by Indian Consulate in 2009. We studied the students issues, held consultation sessions and came out with a strategy document. The strategy proposed then is still relevant and can be followed with some modification.
I have continued to have a keen interest this area due to various reasons, but making money myself has not been one of the motives.
Recently, Federal Govt has announced some changes to the Visa rules to encourage overseas students to come to Australia, thus boosting an $18 billion industry, but these changes will help only University sector. The key points in these changes include faster visa processing, less strict requirement in regards to financial support and 2-4 years work visa to work in any area, after completing a bachelor or higher level course from a University.
Premier of NSW, Mr Barry O’Farrell and Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu have asked for some changes in the rules and regulations to revive the vocational education and training sector which is almost moribund now. The events of 2009 and the bad press it generated has compromised this sector massively. NSW and Victoria earn $6.5 billions and $5.8 billions from international education respectively, but this is in jeopardy due to 64 % and 90.1% decline of students in the vocational education and training sector from China and India respectively in recent years.
The whole international education sector needs a boost but we should not allow the weaknesses of previous years to happen again.
There is a case for a support to Vocational education & training sector, provided the courses considered for this support are carefully defined and approved. It should be a “course” which should be the criterion, not the place from where it has been achieved. The quality of the training and a tight control on the delivery of such training to ensure similar levels and standards when compared with a University courses will be the key here.
There is no harm if overseas students have the qualifications which Australia needs, but we should make it clear that none has an automatic right to have permanent residence visa, just because they have a qualification from Australia.
We should encourage only genuine students and never permit visa rorting, which was common until recently. Compliance with Visa rules and conditions must be enforced ruthlessly. Dependent spouses, who are not students, should not be given permission for unlimited work, to prevent sham marriages.
I am outlining the strategy with some modification from our original document.
The key points are;
1. Safety and Security:
Several cases of robbery & bashings of Students which gave a very bad publicity.
Proposed Action Plan
- Market Australia as a safe place when compared with other countries, using the experience of long term residents/citizens.
- Educate students to REPORT the incidents to NSW Police. Reporting does not affect their VISA.
- Councils to arrange a better lighting around Railway stations, car parks and alleys etc in the key areas with higher students population
- Local councils to install CCTV for surveillance of crimes in the key areas with higher students population
- Liaison with NSW Police re under-cover policing, more visibility and patrolling in hot-spots
- Education of the students to be street-smart and be aware of their surroundings
- Employers have a duty of care and must arrange them to be dropped off at their apartments if it is beyond 10 PM
- Explore and educate the issues involving “Work-cover” matters in case of injury/assaults
- Some transport concession, which is already available all over Australia except NSW and Vic. It would encourage more use of public transport which might also reduce the assaults/robberies of students.
2. Accommodation for Students:
No assistance on arrival. Many students forced to share crowded apartments and Poor treatment by rental agents
Proposed Action Plan
- Education providers should take responsibility for a minimum 6 months accommodation which can be organised at the market rate. Fees can include the rent for such accommodation.
- Lobby with Immigration regarding this requirement [Visa must not be issued unless accommodation confirmed]
3. Quality of training:
Many students are exposed to poor quality of training by educational service providers & shady, shonky or bogus institutions.
Proposed action plan:
- Accreditation authorities/bodies to audit the quality of training randomly and frequently
- Effective and proper actions on proved cases
- Anonymous surveys from the current students re the quality issues
- Effective and prompt action by DEEWR/ACPET re alternate placement in schools/institutions or refund of the tuition fees if the educational provider goes out of business
4. Exploitation of students:
Students are exposed to exploitation of all kinds & bullying in part time employment or by educational service providers. They get below-award wages in many cases.
Proposed action plan:
- To advise & educate students about their RIGHTS in Australia
- To educate them re the appropriate agencies to deal with such matters
- To encourage/facilitate genuine students’ associations which are largely run by students themselves, not business people with hidden agenda and purposes.
- To lobby for establishing an overseas Students’ Ombudsman
5. Overseas Students’ Ombudsman:
- This body will help students when they have issues with education providers or with employers.
6. Health Cover, other appropriate insurance matters and emergency insurance:
Lack of proper/current Insurances and coverage by some students, particularly when they are on bridging Visa.
Proposed Action plan:
- Pre arrival Information package in the country of origin
- Proper medical insurance must be a condition for the Visa and such cover must be current at all times during the stay in Australia
7. Social issues:
Brief details: poor communication, insufficient participation in local community events & meetings and poor public behaviour in many cases
Proposed action plan
- Communication/education through community Radio, TV, newspapers and website.
- Encourage participation of students in community events
- Know what is expected in every situation.
- Encouraging and promoting “when in Rome, do as Romans do” policy for our students
- rules/regulations, Australian ways, expected behaviour and rights/obligations [There is now sufficient information in these matters in various websites]
8. International education as a separate ministry:
- There is sufficient justification for a separate ministry due to the fact that it is a big earner for the economy and needs special attention.
9. International students’ advisory body:
- comprising of some international students, community representatives, education providers and Govt representatives. This will help deal with issues in regards to bad press and advise Govt with policy recommendations.
- targeted marketing in the key markets ie China and India
- addressing the concerns re safety and quality of education
- countering the bad publicity about so called “racism”, using community leaders of high repute in the key markets.
Boost in this sector will be great, but we do not need the repetition of past mistakes which literally killed the whole sector.
Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/11th Oct, 2011