Study-migration link focus

15/10/2009 - 00:00

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AN Indian student approaches an education agent in his home city, after hearing that if he studies in Australia, he can get permanent residency.

AN Indian student approaches an education agent in his home city, after hearing that if he studies in Australia, he can get permanent residency.

The agent says 'no', so the hopeful student keeps searching.

“Students just go to another agent until they hear the word 'yes'," Patrick Tan, senior student counsellor at placement group Blue Education, told attendees at a recent industry function.

“Do we as an agent not tell them that there is a linkage between education in Australia and migration, or do we tell them the risks associated with it?"

The federal government has gone to great lengths to break the nexus between international students and migration, led by Education Minister Julia Gillard.

Changes to migration settings early this year reduced the prospects of international students gaining permanent residency.

It is argued that some providers that focus on qualifications with the sole purpose of getting a foreign student permanent residency have undermined the country's reputation as a study destination, and dodgy operators have been exposed in the media for running vocational training businesses as an immigration scam.

Mr Tan says there should be regulations to keep agents honest, and to give prospective students the facts about migration, rather than trying to deny there is a link between study and permanent residency.

A complete break between international education and migration would, in fact, be detrimental to the sector, according to the Department of Education Services Western Australia.

“The current nexus between international education and skilled migration is problematic and has given rise to many of the current difficulties facing the international education sector," the department says in a senate submission into the welfare of international students.

“[But] completely shutting down or neglecting the importance of international education as a source of skills is likely to be counter productive over the longer term."

In short, the state wants to ensure there is a route for international students to be in the mix of skill sources that forms part of the future labour supply.

The relationship between international education and migration was largely enshrined in 2001 when students were permitted to apply on-shore for permanent residency.

This link between education and residency has been credited as one of the drivers in the growth of international students.

On a positive note, international students have been an important part of the country's strategy to plug the skills shortage gap, not to mention their role in the rise of private education and the cultural diversity universities promote as having benefited their institutions.

On the flip side, the policy drew unscrupulous providers into the market willing to take advantage of students focused solely on migration.

Vocational colleges that specialise in specific areas of study to help foreign students gain valuable 'points' towards residency - such as hairdressing and cookery - are most affected by the policy shift.

“However it is important that the changes continue to provide for a route for bona fide skilled migration from international education," the department says.

Australian School of Tourism and Hotel Management managing director Alan Williams says the link shouldn't be completely broken.

“I'm a firm believer you can't remove that nexus. I think there is no doubt people choose to study in countries all around the world, as we probably did many years ago ourselves, for very good reasons," Mr Williams says.

“If you try and take apart that nexus, what we are going to end up with is a rather segmented approach to marketing to internationals."

Indeed, offshore purchases by Perth-based education provider Navitas show there is a link between migration and education in overseas markets.

Navitas bought Study Overseas and related company Employment Overseas in 2006 to recruit students from India. The former company recruits students from India into the UK, while the latter provides immigration advice to students already in the UK.

One Perth educator told WA Business News that, when a student approaches him for advice on migration, he is required to point the student towards a migration agent.

Local vocation educators have led the WA surge in private education, and it will be these groups paying particular attention to changes in government policy.

Gary Martin, chair of industry body Perth Education City and Murdoch deputy vice-chancellor, says the vocational education and training sector is rapidly becoming a very significant component of the state's international student population.

"The general Western Australian community often perceives WA's international education export industry to be based primarily within the higher education sector, but the most recent figures have shown that the [vocational education and training] sector has become very important to the industry with 32 per cent of all Western Australian international students enrolled in the VET sector compared to 40 per cent in higher education and 19 per cent in English language courses," Professor Martin says.

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