Take a chill pill on overseas student caps, universities told

Proposal an improvement on current ‘blunt tools’ that undermine policy and facilitate exploitation, says Australian Labor MP and former international education boss

July 4, 2024
Parliament House, Canberra
Source: iStock

A parliamentarian from Australia’s governing Labor Party says changes are needed to legislation that gives Canberra the power to cap international enrolments – but Victorian MP Julian Hill has criticised “extreme advocacy” from the proposal’s opponents, saying the government is working through the issues in good faith.

“There’s a long way to go on this,” Mr Hill told parliament. “The government’s listening and consulting. The sector should take those consultation processes seriously.

“I do think there are amendments needed to this bill. They will be dealt with sensibly and are being thought about by the government. It’s a proper process.”

Mr Hill co-chairs the Parliamentary Friends of International Education support group and is a former head of international education in the Victorian state government. Addressing a half-deserted House of Representatives on the evening of 3 July, he said the bill outlined a “major shift in how this significant market is managed”.

He said the proposal was preferable to the “blunt tools” currently used to control student numbers: the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, which “sets notional limits by floor space and teachers and paperwork”, and a visa approval methodology that undermined government policy to diversify foreign students.

“It prioritises students who apply from China because they’re very unlikely to overstay their visas,” he said. “We’ve got these two blunt instruments that work against all the policy which we stand up here and preach.”

Mr Hill highlighted negative outcomes from the current approach, including legions of “permanently temporary visa holders” who “hop around” from course to course in the unrealistic hope of securing permanent residency.

He cited the “completely unacceptable exploitation of students” exposed in a review by former Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon, and some “blatant market share grabs” by large universities that aggressively recruited Chinese students.

He said these problems would not be solved through a “bureaucratically allocated market” with “Soviet-style inefficiency”. Equally undesirable was a “cap and trade” approach. “We don’t want to set up a system that’s effectively trading in people and [would] privilege economic factors over all other factors [with universities] all teaching MBAs because they’re the highest profit and lowest cost.

“It’s about time we…agreed on an adult way that the minister and future ministers can manage the sector and shape it to maximise the value…in every sense. The critical question, which we’ve never confronted as a country, is what is the shape of the onshore market that we want?”

Earlier, independent regional Victorian MP Helen Haines vowed to vote against the bill. “It seems to me like bad public policy,” she told parliament. “It’s risky for our economy. It’s poor governance with a significant level of ministerial power.”

Dr Haines said the proposal was a “rushed response” to housing and migration issues and could fuel “devastating” job losses in regional campuses and communities. “In [my] five years [as] a member of this parliament, I’ve seen governments of both stripes flip-flop on their treatment of international students depending on where the political winds are blowing.”

Mr Hill said some of the criticisms of the bill should be treated with scepticism. “The notion that regional universities would somehow have draconian course caps put on them is just nonsensical.”

Debate on the bill was due to resume on 4 July.


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles