Australian educators have accused the federal government of disingenuity after it axed an old scholarship programme to pay for a new one.
International education representatives have cried foul over the government’s decision to fund the new Destination Australia scholarships, announced last month as part of a much-hyped population policy package, by axeing a two-way mobility scheme called the Endeavour Leadership Programme.
The Endeavour programme, established 16 years ago, had already suffered a A$63 million (£34 million) cutback in last year’s budget. Its separate inbound and outbound mobility streams, which had a global remit, were also amalgamated into a single programme focused on the Asia-Pacific.
Now the scheme’s remaining funds will be appropriated for Destination Australia, which is designed to lure students to regional universities and colleges, under plans announced in this year’s budget on 2 April.
Phil Honeywood, who convenes the expert members of the government’s Council for International Education, said the council had not been told in advance of the cash switch.
“The government has robbed Peter to pay Paul,” said Mr Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia. “It sends all the wrong messages to countries that are already cynical about Australia’s focus on just making money from international students.
“Mobility is clearly not seen as a priority.”
It is not the first time that the Coalition government has funded regionally focused initiatives by raiding broader programmes. In November, it emerged that the government was bankrolling a A$135 million enhancement of regional higher education delivery by freezing a research funding programme – a cut subsequently revealed to total A$329 million.
Mr Honeywood said Endeavour’s abolition would leave Australia with no outward mobility support for vocational education at a time when neighbours such as Indonesia and India were “crying out for assistance with skilling their own populations”.
He said he had unsuccessfully lobbied for vocational students to be included in the New Colombo Plan, which funds scholarships for Australians studying abroad.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that a A$525 million funding package for vocational education, one of the centrepieces of the 2 April budget, has largely been bankrolled with recycled money. Budget papers show that the measure will be partially paid for by redirecting uncommitted funding from the Skilling Australians Fund, another budget highlight when it was unveiled several years ago.