Claire Field sees “significant challenges” in the new international student strategy


There’s a proposal for government scrutiny, which could become interference

The new Australian Strategy for International Education 2021 – 2030 has received little public debate despite its potential to fundamentally change the international education sector in Australia.

Consider the second dot point of Action 3.1B , “the sector will support an optimal student mix in classrooms and communities for the benefit of both domestic and international students.”

This relates to, but goes well beyond, the reforms in Action 1.1A of the strategy which in summary are for the government to:

* identify the optimal make-up of international student cohorts

* publish a measure to improve diversity of international students at universities

* work with universities to develop diversification action plans, and

* develop a diversification index to drive transparency of cohort mixes.

Collectively these actions mean: no more courses dominated by international students from just one country and no more classes dominated by international students.

Reforms to balance the mix of domestic and international students in some disciplines (at some institutions) have merit, as do reforms to improve the mix of international students in Australia, as long as the measures recognise the size of the student populations in the world’s two key source countries (China and India).

The actions in the strategy though bring a remarkable level of government scrutiny, which could become interference to classroom level enrolments in universities and other providers. And it should be noted that almost all of the changes, including Action 3.1B, appear to apply to all providers.

Depending on the timeframe for these reforms to be enacted, they pose a significant challenge as the sector seeks to rebuild.

They also pose significant challenges for both TEQSA and ASQA – if the government intends that once these measures are bedded down, they will be monitored by the regulators.

In addition, TEQSA’s decision-making is under challenge by a leading international education group in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the appeal is understood to relate to the application of the new Higher Education Provider Category Standards and TEQSA’s decisions not to approve two of the group’s providers as University Colleges).

2022 looms as quite the year for the sector.