‘Devil in the detail’ on Australian post-study work visa reform

Indian education agents call for 25 per cent reduction in fees as courses move online

August 28, 2020
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Detail is lacking around Australia’s belated move to safeguard its appeal to foreign students by granting them work rights on the strength of online study, a conference has heard.

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said key questions remained about eligibility for post-graduation work visas. His comments followed the 20 July revelation that studies undertaken remotely with Australian universities or colleges would be taken into account.

Mr Honeywood said visa status affected students’ eligibility. It was not clear whether those who had intended to apply for visas but had not done so before the government stopped processing applications would qualify – even if they had subsequently commenced Australian courses from overseas.

He told the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) convention that the federal government was still deliberating on this point. The most likely outcome was that students would qualify as long as they had lodged applications before the 20 July announcement.

Mr Honeywood said another unanswered question was how long students would have to spend in Australia to qualify for post-course employment. He predicted a minimum requirement of six months.

This would be comparable to the situation in Britain, which requires students seeking work rights to complete only the final semester within the UK. And it would boost Australia’s allure compared to Canada, where students must complete at least half of their courses onshore.

Post-study work rights are considered critical to the Australian international education industry’s prospects of riding out the pandemic. The number of visa applications declined sharply from some countries – particularly in South Asia – after the UK reintroduced two-year post-study work visas last September.

Canada’s treatment of international students during the crisis has been considered particularly exemplary, with a recent study suggesting that it will boost its share of internationally mobile students as a result. But Mr Honeywood said Canada had wound back some of its arrangements, such as a guarantee that foreign students could enter the country if they had obtained visas by mid-March.

“Different countries are making different decisions because of the Covid-19 situation,” he told the convention. “We waited quite some time for…flexibility which other countries were a bit quicker to put together. However, some of…their flexibility packages have had to be changed.

“We had to wait a while to get ours, but [it] covers most of what the industry wanted.”

Nevertheless, Indian education agents want more. “Even a one-year master’s degree in the UK enables a student to get post-study work permission,” noted AAERI president Ravi Lochan Singh.

“Australia could consider offering at least [a] two-year post-study work [visa] – if not three or four years – to those who choose to study a shorter programme than two years [such as] a master’s degree of one and a half years or a postgraduate diploma.”

Mr Singh also wanted tuition fees to be reduced by at least 25 per cent in acknowledgment that a lot of delivery is currently online. “This is not what they really came for,” he said.

He said overseas students in Australia paid tens of thousands of dollars in fees, plus living expenses. “One of the reasons Canada and the UK have increased in popularity with students in South Asia is that the return on investment is much higher.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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