Oz unis' good name at risk

September 17, 1999

Australia's universities risk their reputations being tainted by the alleged malpractice of some of the country's less scrupulous overseas education providers, it was claimed this week.

As the Australian government announced the terms of reference for a review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act, the federal opposition warned of the danger to the economy.

Kim Carr, Labour's senate education spokesman, said: "Education is our fourth largest export industry, bringing Aus$3 billion (Pounds 1.2 billion) a year to the Australian economy. My concern is that unethical providers will cause damage to the rest of Australia's education industry.

"Privatisation and deregulation has led to lots of small providers with quite prestigious names being set up. But not all are reputable," he said.

"There are many hundreds of students entering Australia, using these places as alleged colleges, but who are involved in activities other than education. I believe there is evidence of people coming here on student visas to work in the sex trade."

In a debate in the senate earlier this month, Senator Carr alleged professional smugglers were increasingly using student visas as a means of getting illegal immigrants into Australia. The country has recently seen the collapse of several private sector business colleges, which offered courses to overseas students. In two cases, the government has been unable, says Senator Carr, to trace many hundreds of students on the colleges' books.

Senator Carr cited the Business Institute of Victoria, which collapsed in May, having brought students to Melbourne to do courses in cleaning and security for which it was registered. Students were then transferred to MBAs for which the college was not registered.

The senator told the senate his party was investigating 12 Australian colleges. He cited one, the Australian National College in Sydney, which he said has 1,400 students on its books. "Only 180 of those students appear to be attending on a regular basis. I think we are entitled to ask: where are the rest of the students?"

He said other colleges were run by companies whose directors are registered migration agents.

Frank Larkins, deputy vice-chancellor (research) at Melbourne University, said:

"A country tends to get branded a bit. We would hope that where Melbourne University is concerned there is enough information out there to distinguish that we are highly reputable. But there is always a risk involved in this kind of publicity."

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