Australian ‘risk’ calculation changed amid poaching fears

Concerns about student visa scheme’s integrity prompt methodological adjustment

September 22, 2019
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Australia’s home affairs department is tweaking the methodology it uses to calculate colleges’ “risk ratings”, after a review unearthed concerns that poachers were sullying the country’s revised student visa scheme.

From 30 September, the department will include data on the outcomes of “onshore” visa applications - those lodged by students who are already in Australia - in the reports it compiles about each college.

The change comes after an internal “health check” revealed worries about the integrity of the simplified student visa framework (SSVF), which was introduced in mid- 2016 to make visa applications easier for students and to reduce red tape for colleges.

The 2016 revisions slashed the number of student visa subclasses from eight to two and allowed all visa applications to be lodged online. The department also applied a single “external immigration risk framework”, with colleges given regular data updates so that they could closely monitor their own performance in the scheme.

The risk data included unsuccessful visa applications from would-be students outside Australia. But submissions to an appraisal of the scheme last year raised questions over why rejected onshore applications were not also included in the risk rating methodology.

“This creates an incentive for some providers to ‘poach’ students onshore from low risk-providers who have recruited from offshore,” the department reported. “This is not fair for those providers who invest significant resources in offshore recruitment.”

New data suggests an increasing share of international students - including from the key market of China - are recruited onshore. Some 35 per cent of Chinese higher education students obtained their visas from within Australia last financial year, up from 28 per cent just three years earlier.

In the vocational education sector, where onshore applicants have long outnumbered fresh arrivals, their proportion rose from 58 per cent to 62 per cent.

The appraisal found that the drift towards onshore applications had been accompanied by an increase in visa refusals. Six per cent of onshore visa applications were rejected in 2018-19, doubling the refusal rate from three years earlier.

The appraisal also found that - unbeknownst to the department - some students could be ignoring a requirement that they obtain new visas if they switched to lower level courses.

This meant that if students overstayed their visas, their original colleges were accountable rather than the providers that had potentially poached them.

“The department acknowledges that the course and provider transfer data does not capture the full picture of student transfers,” the report says. The department said it would “interrogate the data with a view to gaining a full understanding of the rate of provider and course transfer under the SSVF”.

“It is important to note there may be legitimate reasons for a student to move from one education sector to another or between providers,” the report adds.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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