Claire Field on mixed futures for international ed providers


I was travelling when Minister for Home Affairs Clair O’Neil addressed the National Press Club last week, but I had downloaded the Final Report of the Migration Review and read the international education chapter carefully before we landed.

As I turned my phone back on, I was still musing how the ideas proposed for international education would be progressed when I opened an email from a very senior leader saying: “I expect all hell to break loose in coming days as the HE sector digests what (Minister O’Neil) said and the changes which are coming very soon. I see some HE business models in serious trouble …”

Once I had read the minister’s speech and the subsequent Q&A with the press gallery, it was clear he is right.

The minister was far more precise and targeted in her comments than the Review Panel – and the changes being planned will badly impact some higher education and VET providers.

In her speech the minister said:

“We propose creating simpler, faster pathways for the international students who will have special skills and capabilities we need. But we also need to make sure our international student system has integrity… we will look at tightening the requirements for international students studying in Australia, and ensure that students are actually here to study.”

So – if you are an institution attracting students with high levels of English and your international students achieve strong graduation outcomes – then you should benefit from the proposed reforms. But for other providers it seems likely their international student numbers will decline, especially providers focussed on onshore recruitment.

Answering journalists’ questions the minister said:

“We’ve basically sat back and allowed the people who are already here to run through the system.”

“I’m working with my colleagues… to think about how we would need to lift the requirements for international students to enter and study in Australia.”

“This is not about reducing the number, but I think it’s inevitable when we lift standards that there might be some implication for numbers.”

“… fixing these integrity issues will help us bolster what’s working at the moment. It’s going to be a big and important project thinking about lifting standards for international students…”

Of course, many integrity issues could have been avoided if students transferring to lower AQF courses had been made to apply for a new visa (as the rules require) and if the “concurrent CoE loophole’” had been closed.

Claire Field is a consultant and advisor to the tertiary education sector