AUSTRALIA is bolstering its Aus$3.4 billion (Pounds 1.3 billion) education import-export industry by simplifying student visa applications from next year.
Visitors and temporary residents from so-called "gazetted" countries will be able to apply for a student visa inside the country as well as abroad. Gazetted countries are those with a good record of students returning home after their studies. Neither China nor India are included in this list.
But students from non-gazetted countries could also benefit as education institutions will get a bigger role in assessing them to see if their study intentions are genuine.
Immigration minister Philip Ruddock said that a pilot scheme would start soon. The measures would make education in Australia a more attractive option. But he said that "the integrity of the student visa programme" must not be allowed to suffer.
Mr Ruddock said that involving colleges and universities in visa assessment could eliminate discriminatory gazetted/non-gazetted country arrangements. It would allow student visa applications to be assessed on their individual merits without reference to their country of origin.
However, anti-abuse measures would come into force, such as banning students applying for a visa with work rights from taking a job before they start their course.
To stop universities and colleges "poaching" students, entrants will have to remain at the institution that recruited them for 12 months unless they obtain transfer permission from the Immigration Department.
Some universities have complained that students they have recruited have been lured elsewhere through promises of lower tuition fees and laxer academic and performance requirements.
The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee welcomed the revised regulations but attacked the government for not being "sufficiently strategic" in its approach.
AVCC executive director Stuart Hamilton said the positive changes included the retention of student work rights, which were an essential marketing tool. "But it is frustrating the government has not listened to our arguments that the level of visa fees and charges are a disincentive to expansion of the industry," he added.
The government needed to promote closer regional education links, support staff and student exchanges, and offer more scholarships for needy new students.