Part-time work focus for international students a ‘time bomb’

Head of IEAA tells UUK forum that government’s approach is about helping ‘corporate Australia’, not students

三月 18, 2022
Person bringing drinks in a cafe illustrating news article about students and part-time work in Australia
Source: Igor Vershinsky/iStock

The Australian government’s approach to boosting international education by uncapping part-time work rights is not a “gesture of support” for students but about providing “a supplementary workforce for corporate Australia”, a conference has heard.

Phil Honeywood, head of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), told a Universities UK forum that the result could also be a “time bomb” for the higher education sector because of the pressures students would face to work while studying.

Since opening up its borders to international students in December, the Australian government has pledged to refund visa fees and temporarily scrapped the limit on the number of hours overseas learners are allowed to work during term time in a bid to quickly boost numbers.

Mr Honeywood said Australia had suffered a “reputational hit” during the Covid crisis and criticised prime minister Scott Morrison for telling “our international students at the start of the pandemic to just go home” when other nations focused more on support.

“The narrative has now changed. It’s all come on down, we’ll give you full student visa rebates, we’ll give you uncapped working rights,” he told a session at the International Higher Education Forum in a pre-recorded message. 

“It would be nice to think that this was some kind of gesture of support for international students. Instead, it’s actually providing a supplementary workforce to corporate Australia.”

He said in the past such uncapped work rights led to enrolment of students who “are going to come under pressure from parents back home to repatriate money from their Australian dollar earnings, where they’re going to have academic progress suffer”.

“It’s going to be a real time bomb for our beleaguered Australian universities down the track.”

Both Mr Honeywood and another speaker during the session, Sunny Yang, associate vice-president for student recruitment and admissions at Monash University, said that although international numbers were up since borders were opened in December, enrolments from China were still flagging.

“Our recovery from China looks like it is going to be a lot longer and slower than all the [other countries],” Ms Yang told the forum, adding that a lack of numbers feeding in from key “pathways” such as schools were a key factor.

The session on international competition for students heard that New Zealand could be one country that potentially did well on China enrolments in the future given its approach to Covid, although speakers pointed out it was unlikely to be fully open to campus study before 2023.

“The reality has that New Zealand has had 135 deaths since the start of the pandemic,” said Erik Lithander, deputy vice-chancellor for strategic engagement at the University of Auckland. “Compared with other countries, that is a remarkable figure, and I think that is going to resonate with people.

“I do think that countries, like China, that have also taken an incredibly robust response to trying to reduce the impact of the pandemic will see some affinity with the approach that’s been taken here, and that may well make this a natural place to consider.”

However, he also warned that there was also some political “soul-searching” going on in New Zealand about the future shape of its immigration policy ahead of the next election.

He did not think this would see higher education specifically targeted, he said, but there could be “unintended consequences” if changed policies sent out “mixed signals” to those looking to study in the country.



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