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DIAC attends International Higher Education Conference

Yesterday I attended the International Higher Education Conference in
Melbourne. It was a great opportunity to listen to some interesting presentations and hear the views of the industry and their thoughts about the Knight Review of the Student Visa Program. This blog was mentioned at the conference so I hope some of the attendees stop by and have a look.

Peter Speldewinde, who has posted on this blog before, spoke at the conference. His presentation topic was ‘the role of DIAC in assessment and monitoring standards in the new era’. The new era refers to how international education will operate in a post-Knight Review environment where education providers and key stakeholders work closely, in a partnership with government. Peter’s presentation gave an interesting perspective to the group, as it provided context about how the recent reforms to skilled migration support a sustainable international education sector.

Before I touch on the key points Peter raised, I’ll provide you with a brief background. The international education sector experienced unsustainable growth in the 2008-09 period. Growth in parts of the sector brought major issues around quality in some parts of the sector and high levels of fraud in the student visa program. Following this period, a number of key changes to both the student visa and migration programs were necessary to maintain the integrity of these programs.

During his presentation Peter explained the impact of this growth, which I’ll paraphrase here.

While there had been an increase in the number of students coming to Australia, the majority of these international students were staying in Australia, reaching a point where close to four times as many people were arriving on a temporary student visa than were departing.

This had an impact on Net Overseas Migration (NOM) – which is the difference between inflows and outflows of long-term residents. This rapid acceleration of visas granted to students with no intention of returning home not only put pressure on the department to maintain the integrity of the student visa program, this rapid growth led to questions about credibility in our international education sector.

The reforms announced by the Australian Government on 8 February 2010 and the subsequent introduction of the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) have resulted in a critical shift towards a labour market demand-driven program. They have effectively decoupled the international education and migration programs, breaking a link that had led to negative outcomes for both international education and the skilled migration program.

The interesting trend Peter discussed was the immediate effect this reform package has made in contributing to a decline in NOM, which has now almost halved from its peak of more than 315 000.

The purpose of the Knight Review was to examine how the student visa program could best support Australia’s international education sector while at the same time preserving the integrity of Australia’s migration program. The changes that are occurring as a result of the Knight Review should ensure the student program remains broadly NOM neutral, as we expect to see genuine students coming to Australia, with the view to complete their courses and then return home - unless they have been sponsored by an Australian employer or have been offered a place in the Australian independent skilled migration program.