Indians exploit Aussie skills gap

May 5, 2006

Indian students choose Australian universities less for their reputation and more because they aim to become permanent residents, according to new research.

Writing in the Monash University journal People and Place , Michiel Baas, honorary research fellow at Monash, says that three quarters of the Indian students who completed courses in Australia in 2003 went on to obtain a visa that allowed them to remain in the country.

"Even before coming to Australia, they will have figured out which courses will provide the easiest way to permanent residency and will base the course they enrol in on this," Mr Baas writes. "Although they are students in name, in practice [they are] migrants."

Mr Baas says the students often have little interest in the quality of the institution they enrol in. In fact, he says they refer to them as "permanent residency or PR factories - places that have little to do with education and much to do with migration".

"This is a huge group and one that seems to be growing rapidly," Mr Baas writes. "The people in this group are consumers who know what they are buying by investing in an education in Australia, but who, at the same time, do not know whether the product they have bought will actually [achieve their ends]."

Mr Baas undertook fieldwork in India as part of his PhD, where he found many students he met intended to go to Australia. Curious about their reasons, Mr Baas continued his research in Melbourne. He interviewed Indian students and ex-students, migration agents, heads of educational institutions, lecturers, student advisers, counsellors, and Immigration Department officials.

Mr Baas says that Indian students are often enrolled on courses such as IT, management and commerce (in particular accounting), engineering and related technologies courses, which directly correspond with Australian occupation shortages.

"The institutions let the [Immigration Department's] occupations-in-demand list influence what sort of courses they promote overseas and what courses [will] no longer be offered. Interviews with directors of programmes from institutions enrolling a high number of [Indian] students certainly acknowledged this," Mr Baas claims. He says the directors freely admitted that they kept close track of changes in the occupations list to predict which new courses would be in demand.

"From discussions with recruiters and marketing people, and others active in the education industry, it became clear that almost everybody is aware of what the Indian student market is about," Mr Baas says.

Many students wanted to stay on in Australia so they could help repay loans of up to A$55,000 (£23,000), Mr Baas notes.

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