Claire Field not overwhelmed by the private provider help-package

The government is to be commended for offering support to international education providers

The funding will not go far

 Last week Minister Tudge announced

* $26.1 million for an extra 5,000 independent higher education short course places

* $9.4 million in innovation grants up to $150,000 for independent providers to grow off-shore and on-line delivery

* $17.7 million in on-going regulatory fee relief, and

* on-going VET Student Loans and FEE-HELP loan administration fee exemptions.

The focus is on the 1,200 independent providers the government states have Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students approval,*  however all providers including universities and TAFE institutes will receive regulatory fee relief and TAFE students will also benefit from the loan fee exemptions.

While the headline figure looks good it will not go far, nor help those most in need, notably ELICOS providers. Few of them have VSL approval or higher education registration (and hence the ability to offer short courses).

The innovation grants are excellent but if each successful applicant receives the full $150,000 then only 60 providers will benefit. There is also little overlap between VSL-approved providers and those with CRICOS approval – only 86 independent CRICOS providers offer VSL loans.

It is a slightly rosier picture for CRICOS-approved independent higher education providers which get the above concessions plus a share of the 5,000 short course places, although they enrolled 81,000 international students in 2019.

The minister’s statement identifies an extra “$7.1 million in administrative savings for the sector, with providers no longer required to report the receipt of fees each month.” To which, I ask how much does it cost to press a button to upload a report to government (given providers still have to keep these records)?

Further, it is likely that providers with the most to hide will receive the greatest benefit. The sector is openly discussing the providers acting unconscionably as the impact of the pandemic bites – this initiative hinders regulators ASQA and TEQSA from understanding what is taking place in the sector and in taking action.

* By my count there are fewer than 1,000 independent CRICOS providers but no regular data is published on the number or profile of CRICOS-approved providers.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector