Australia to review strict student visa program

Experts believe current visa system takes too long and sets the bar too high.

Sydney: Australia’s Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans has announced that a review of the international student visa program will be conducted following which changes may be carried out to prop up the ailing sector.

The decision comes after it was revealed that international student commencements to September 2010 were down 9.3 percent as compared to last year, a stark turnaround in a sector that enjoyed record growth over the past decade.

Enrolments from India were down by over 16 percent as was in 2009, while Victoria University said that it suffered a 25 percent drop in Indian student enrolments.

Evans said that the strategic review would give education providers and stakeholders an important opportunity to share their vision of the sector’s future.

“The Australian international education sector has come under increasing pressure as a result of the rising value of the Australian dollar, the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis in some countries, and growing competition from the United States, New Zealand and Canada for international students," the Age quoted Evans, as saying.

The Tertiary Education Minister further said that the review would also recommend ways to improve partnerships between Australian universities and visa-processing centres abroad.

“The review is tasked with enhancing the continued competitiveness of the international education sector, as well as strengthening the integrity of the student visa program,” Evans said.

Headed by former New South Wales Minister for the Sydney Olympics Michael Knight, the review is scheduled to report back to Evans and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen by mid-2011.

Experts believe that the current visa system takes too long and sets the bar too high, allowing competitors in the United States, Britain and Canada to jump in with a more flexible system.

Simon Marginson, a Professor of Higher Education in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, said that the number of international students would continue to fall unless the federal government addressed problems with the way visas are processed and awarded.

“Every delay is going to hurt the market. We could be looking at three or four years before we start to recover,” Marginson said.

Jeffrey Smart, Swinburne University pro-vice chancellor, said that visa processing needed to change to “keep pace with the competitive arrangements in place in Canada and the USA in particular”.