More work rights for foreign students who pick Australian regions

Australian government unveils incentives to lure international students away from big cities

March 20, 2019
Australian road sign

Foreigners who study at university campuses outside five of Australia’s biggest population centres will qualify for an extra year of post-study work rights, under changes announced by the federal government.

Overseas students, along with their domestic counterparts, may also be eligible for new A$15,000 (£8,000) scholarships if they attend non-metropolitan campuses.

The changes are part of a broader migration package that the government says will ease metropolitan congestion while boosting regional economies.

Prime minister Scott Morrison said the work rights changes would give the regions a “much-needed boost”. “[International education] is one of our biggest export earners,” he told a press conference. “We want to see that benefit spread more into the regions.”

Times Higher Education understands that the new rules, to apply from November, will extend the duration of subclass 485 temporary graduate visas – which currently allow international students to remain in Australia and work for between two and four years, depending on their occupations – by another 12 months.

To qualify, they must have studied in locations other than Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and the rapidly growing Gold Coast region of south-eastern Queensland.

The changes reflect New Zealand’s policy change last year to allow foreign sub-degree and graduate diploma students an extra year of work rights if they study outside Auckland.

The new arrangements could have particular appeal for students from the Indian subcontinent, many of whom are attracted to Australia by the opportunity to work. The number of visa applications from Indians seeking Australian higher education increased by 28 per cent last year and about 350 per cent over the past seven years, and is on track to rise a further 39 per cent this year.

The Regional Universities Network said the government was right to use a carrot rather than a stick approach to shepherd international students into rural areas. Executive director Caroline Perkins said the new measure would “create a bit of a buzz, which will make some international students think again”.

International student numbers have been exploding in many metropolitan universities, where they provide a vital revenue stream. Regional universities have all but missed out, attracting only about 3 per cent of foreign enrolments.

Dr Perkins said the new arrangements could help change that. “You have to start somewhere,” she said. “The scholarships plus the additional post-study work rights are starting to make [regional study] more and more attractive. Hopefully it might lead to bigger and better things.”

Times Higher Education understands that the scholarships, under the newly created Destination Australia Programme, will be shared equally among international and domestic students. About 1,100 studentships will be offered each year to people who study in remote campuses, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with beneficiaries qualifying for assistance of up to A$15,000 a year.

RUN chair Helen Bartlett said that the money would make a “real difference” to the recipients. “Financial issues are the reason many domestic regional students drop out of university,” she said.

Dr Perkins praised the “joined-up approach” of the new measures. “It’s embedding regional tertiary and higher education in a broader plan for regional development and, in this case, immigration policy.

“This is what we’ve been arguing for a long time – that regional education is part of the bigger regional development picture.”

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