Australia’s universities are in a bit of a panic. With international student applications down, and much bigger drops in the ‘feeder’ colleges, the next few years are looking particularly grim.
While issues such as the high dollar, student safety and more intense competition for even-more broke universities in the UK and US are affecting the international student market, changes to skilled migration rules are also causing grief.
Most university courses that were being used as backdoor routes to permanent migration are still on the skilled occupations list used by the immigration department (the vocational education sector has not been so lucky), but the number of visas available in this category has dropped significantly. The emphasis has shifted to employer-sponsored migrants. So international students now need to find an employer to support them, creating much more uncertainty.
Yesterday the Group of Eight lobby group joined other university groups in calling on the government to ‘fix’ the problems.
There are some side-issues such as visa processing times that should be remedied. But it’s not clear to me that the sector has made a convincing case for a return to the old migration policies. Most former overseas students were not working in their field of study. A 2006 analysis of migrants 18 months after their arrival found the skills match for former overseas students at the following levels: accounting 35%, business/commerce 5%, education 31%, engineering 23%, IT 35%, law 50%, medicine 40%, nursing 90%. So really only nursing was scoring a high rate of skills match. Unemployed/not in labour force was only 9%, so most were working – just not in the occupations they had trained for.
If there isn’t going to be a high rate of direct course-employment match, it’s hard to see what the migration rationale is for giving graduates in some courses preferential treatment. Education providers are unnecessary middle-men taking a cut from selling general migration visas. If we are going to have an easy-access migration policy, open it to anyone.
After years of amazing growth driven by migration possibilities, Australian education is going to have to re-adjust and sell its services on their merits, rather than the chance to stay in Australia.