Mark McGowan says the government is committed to increasing WA’s share of the international education market. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Govt seeks to revive international student market

Thursday, 16 August, 2018 - 15:41

The state government has foreshadowed a new graduate visa scheme to attract international students to Western Australia, but has no plans to reverse earlier policy decisions that have contributed to a plunge in the state's share of foreign students coming to Australia.

The Graduate Skilled Migration List will give high-achieving graduates - PhD, masters, honours and other higher degree graduates - a pathway to skilled migration.

The government said details on eligibility and how to apply would be available in coming months.

It has also committed $2 million to develop an international education strategy, with details to be announced later this year.

Premier Mark McGowan said the government was committed to increasing WA’s share of the international education market.

“We need to send a message to the world that we welcome international students, and their friends and families,” Mr McGowan said in a statement.

“Perth is an attractive, supportive destination to live, study and work.”

Today’s announcement follows a dramatic fall in WA’s share of international students to 6.2 per cent, according to the latest data compiled by the federal Department of Education and Training.

While there has been strong growth nationally, commencements by international students in WA for the year to May 2018 fell by 0.4 per cent in both the VET and higher education sectors.

The latest data continues a long-term decline in WA's market share, falling from 9.9 per cent of enrolments in 2002.

Industry players believe the decline has been exacerbated by a tightening of skilled migration rules last year.

The McGowan government removed Perth from the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and cut WA’s Skilled Migration Occupation List from 178 occupations to just 18.

The government said today the Skilled Migration Occupation List would not be affected by the new scheme, and the policy to remove Perth from the RSMS remained in place.

A spokesperson for education minister Sue Ellery said Perth was added to the RSMS in 2011, during the height of the mining boom, and changes since then meant removal was approprite.

The spokesperson added that the federal government made further changes to the RSMS in March 2018, with prospective applicants now required to have at least three years of work experience relevant to the occupation before being able to be sponsored by an employer for this visa. 

"This makes it more difficult for applicants to meet the RSMS visa application requirements, and international students will more dependent on being able to gain appropriate post-study work rights," she said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive Chris Rodwell welcomed today's news but called for more policy action.

“International students don’t just choose their study destination based on academic opportunities,” Mr Rodwell said.

“The perceived opportunities for employment after studying are critical to attracting students to WA.

“We encourage the government to continue to assess the occupations on the WA Skilled Migration Occupation List in light of industry feedback that skills shortages are beginning to emerge from an increase in mining activity in WA."

CCI said WA’s international student commencements declined 13 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 compared with this time two years ago.

In contrast, South Australia had a 9 per cent increase in commencements and Tasmania a 28 per cent increase over the same period

The Australia China Business Council WA and the Migration Institute of Australia, which represents registered migration agents, congratulated the government but also signalled more needed to be done.

“This is the first step towards creating WA as the best state in Australia for international students,” they said in a joint statement.

Opposition education spokesperson Donna Faragher said today’s announcement was an admission by the state government that its policy was wrong.

She said an investment of $2 million over five years from the McGowan government was a far cry from Queensland’s reported investment of $37 million over four years, or Victoria’s $35 million investment.

Shadow minister for tourism and small business, Libby Mettam, said the government came into office riding high on popular political sentiment to remove Perth from the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme without any thought of the knock-on effect this would have on international education and tourism.

She said the McGowan government had severely underestimated the impact the reduction in international student numbers would have on the state’s tourism sector.

“For every international student, there are five visits from family which translates to millions of dollars flowing into the WA economy,” Ms Mettam said.

“WA had some 1,300 less international students enrol last year, which when combined with the associated tourism losses means there is more than $138 million less flowing into our economy to support employment, hospitality, housing and the business community.”