Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ARC Education Group [representing the Australian International Conservatorium of Music (AICM) and Performing Arts High School (AIPAH) is pleased to receive applications from individuals, partnerships and corporations, who wish to become agents for the recruitment of international students for our courses in Postgraduate Pathways, Bachelor of Music (Performance), Diploma of Music (Performance), and Secondary School - Years 7-12.

Kindly download the Expression of Interest Letter for further details.

Kindly download and complete the Application Form.

I look forward to receiving your application forms soon.

Jasmine Wong
International Student Services
Australian International Conservatorium of Music (AICM)
Australian International Performing Arts High School (AIPAH)

www.aicm.edu.au / www.aipah.nsw.edu.au

T: +61 2 9637 0777
F: +61 2 9637 0222

AICM: 114 Victoria Rd, Rozelle, NSW 2039
AIPAH: 31-33 Allen St, Harris Park, NSW 2150

Monday, March 7, 2011

Student Visa Review - a chance to remake the international education environment

As we await the release of the discussion paper which will guide the parameters of submissions to the Knight Review of the Australian Student Visa system, it's timely to consider just how important this review is. The Knight review is the third in a series of reviews commissioned by the government since the industry's fall from grace following the Indian student attacks in Melbourne in 2009, subsequent lurches in government policy and the first decline in enrollments seen for over a decade.

The first review investigated student safety by the Australian Senate and the second was undertaken by Bruce Baird looking at the ESOS Act. Both considered issues in the direct glare of publicity surrounding the attacks on Indian students and their conclusions were filtered by a Government seeking to act to right perceived wrongs. While both reviews affirmed the positive nature of the industry and its practices overall, attention was drawn to concerns around about poor regulation allowing some private colleges to trade without due oversight, the availability of migration outcomes for hospitality, hairdressing and community service courses ballooning enrollments in the VET sector and the arrival of students who did not have enough funds to support themselves adequately. Although these matters principally revolved around a few geographic locations (Melbourne, Sydney), a relatively small number of institutions and two or three nationalities of students: the attempts to fix these issues knocked everybody off-balance from universities to well-run small colleges who had never offered a migration focused course.

The government quickly changed three things: the nexus between migration and VET courses was effectively severed, all providers had to be re-registered and the amount of money students needed to show they had for living costs per year rose from $12,000 to $18,000. Coinciding with the GFC, the much increased competition for students from the UK, US and Canada, and the negative publicity Australian education had sustained from the student attacks, this last measure in particular has been a hammer blow in reducing Australian institutions competitiveness in attracting students to study here.

The penny has dropped to some extent, and the Knight review appears to be a sincere attempt to explore ways to assist the industry to recover while maintaining the integrity of the student visa system and the support of the Australian community. It's worth remembering that the ease of obtaining a student visa is the most important factor in institutions recruiting students from the major markets of China and India; consider if there were no barriers at all then almost every institution would be full to bursting point. Of course, barriers to discern appropriate students from others who would come here to work or for other reasons are essential and the Knight review gives us an opportunity to explore the structure of a student visa system which has remained pretty well unchanged since 2001. If we get the conditions for a student visa correct, we virtually guarantee a healthy international education sector for the foreseeable future and the consequent economic and social benefit it brings us.

So in the broadest terms, what is good about the current system, and what's bad?

On the positive side, the conditions a student needs to meet to gain a visa are clear and un-ambiguous. This is very important and compares favorably to the US system for example whereby a student has an unstructured interview with an Officer from the Department of Homeland Security, any reason for a refusal is often unclear and is the sourse of angst for many US-bound students.

Also, the Australian system seeks to assess the risk of a student breaching the conditions of their student visa while in Australia, this is also a sensible and reasonable approach.

However, how it seeks to assess that risk is it's principal weakness in my view. Alone of all countries, the Australian system separates students into categories depending on the educational sector they intend to study within, and makes value judgements about the risks associated with that sector as a whole. All higher education courses are judged as posing the same risk, all VET courses the same risk, all ELICOS courses and so on. Thus, for example, every VET institution (public or private), is affected by the recruitment practices of all the other VET providers. Their own behaviour is in effect irrelevant. An institution can enroll unsuitable students, in the knowledge that they will not suffer any negative consequences themselves, only that the overall sector may be adversly affected. This is what happened with the Colleges referred to earlier, spruiking migration outcomes and allowing their students to work rather than than study- why should they care, when every VET provider will take the blame.

There is an obvious solution. Make every institution fully accountable for the students that they recruit themselves. If their students breach visa conditions above an established level, the institution itself should find it more difficult to gain visas for subsequent students through an increased risk profile. Conversely, if an institution demonstrates that their students are complying with visa conditions, it should find it easier to recruit more via a lower risk assessment profile. New providers could begin at a default level until enough data about their practices have been produced. This form of feedback loop would stamp out poor practice very quickly, and the statistics are already available for current providers for such assessments to be made now.

There is another way in which the separation of assessment levels into sectors for student visa issuance creates distortion and inequity. There are many courses which may have the same function, structure and purpose as one another but for a variety of legitimate reasons are accredited by different bodies and thus are considered as belonging to different sectors. They then attract different assessment levels for student visa applications for no logical reason. For example, there are foundation courses (preparatory courses for entry to undergraduate programs) which all meet the same national standards but some are accredited as VET courses and some as Non-award courses. Strangely, the Non-award courses are assessed as less risky for some countries. In another case, there are Diplomas of Business accredited as VET or Higher Education courses but they are effectively the same type of course. No prizes for guessing which ones are treated the most favorably. There are other examples.

Hopefully, the Knight review will provide the opportunity for the government to have the courage to make fundamental changes to the student visa system, and not just tinker with a few marginal issues. if institutions are systematically encouraged to take responsibility for the type of students they recruit, if institutions can benefit directly by playing a part in upholding the integrity of the Student Visa System rather than being treated as part of a sector: we will have taken a huge step forward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Disappearing Dodgy College

Ever since student safety issues took centre stage following Indian student bashings in Melbourne in 2009, a new noun-phrase has entered the lexicon: The Dodgy College. A supposed contributor to the student safety problem: the idea that there were, (and perhaps still are), significant numbers of low quality international education providers quickly took hold in the public mind. All corners of the industry; institutions, peak bodies and Government agencies have bemoaned the existence of these rogue elements. Minister Evans recently said:"As happens in any boom—less reputable providers entered the market, causing concerns about quality, and leading to the very public failure of badly-run institutions."

The Dodgy College has/had the following basic characteristics:
  • Its student body contained only one or two nationalities of students.
  • It over enrolled students for its facilities and above its official CRICOS capacity.
  • It offered Hospitality or Hairdressing (VET courses on Migration Occupation in Demand List).
  • It promoted a permanent residency pathway as a key outcome.
These weren't characteristics that were confined to private institutions, but when the flow of students was lessened, some smaller providers' business model collapsed. The TAFEs and Universities who followed the same business model, could hide their losses in a larger revenue stream. It's important to recognise that a number of failures of private education providers have not been due to the low-quality of their programs or services, or being badly run; or being an unattractive option for students. Rather, the sudden difficulties in obtaining student visas, and the large increase in funds needed to be demonstrated by prospective students to cover living costs has made some "good" operators unable to maintain enough student enrolments to survive, regardless of whether they offer cooking or hairdressing.

Evans also said "over the last decade or so our international education sector galloped ahead far faster than its strategic thinking. " and I think he's referring to the link between gaining these particular VET qualifications and gaining permanent residency in Australia. The "strategic thinking" was done by the Australian Government itself by putting this policy in place and actively promoting it. For a number of years as the numbers of students coming grew (in both public and private institutions), some rumblings of concern did come from the industry, but seemingly not much from State or Federal Governments who were happy to promote the continued expansion of the VET to residency pathway. Yet seemingly, only the private VET providers offering such courses and outcomes have been demonised as the reason why "Brand Australia" has lost its shine. They were only doing the Governments bidding and to much acclaim.

Now, the Government has beefed up it's regulatory activities, and severed the link between migration and these two VET level courses. Any Dodgy College that continues in the same modus operandi as before has no future. Which, begs the question, are there any left or have they all been weeded out?

It's not easy to identify a Dodgy College by a statistic but the over-enrolment of students provides a real window into improvements being made. Collin Waters of AEI provided some very revealing statistics to the ACPET Conference in August:
  • in 2008, there were 52 institutions who had over enrolled students in Victoria, 44 in NSW and 18 in Qld
  • in 2010: only 5 in Victoria, 5 in NSW and none in Qld at all.
When you consider that there are more than 1,000 private providers registered on CRICOS, the number of Dodgy Colleges by this measure is very small, and certainly no reason to further tighten the noose on the overseas student visa process.

Now this business model has been dismantled, its time for the Government to actively stimulate the recruitment of international students into Australia via easing the conditions around the student visa process, to help counter the negative messages and reputation loss both public and private institutions have weathered recently. It's time to stop focussing attention on an issue that has been largely solved and start working toward a more pressing need to solve the downturn in student enrolments, otherwise there will be more College closures and they won't be "Dodgy Colleges".

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

International Students: Are they migrants?

Watching Graeme Hugo's excellent presentation at the Migration Institute of Australia's conference a couple of weeks back got me thinking - What happens when common words are put to differing usage? Associations that we have with particular words can influence political debate, and even drive policy - consider the word: "Migrant" What does this word mean to most people? Without looking at a dictionary, I'd suggest something like "a person who moves to live in another country on a long-term basis, potentially for the rest of their life"- this, or something similar might be a definition that the Australian public would agree with.

I don't think they would consider an international student, here for 4 years studying a bachelor degree, who then returns home, a migrant. If I go to live in London for a couple of years between school and University, and fully intend to come back for my studies to Australia, have I "migrated to the UK"? - it depends who you talk to...

Australian demographers, statisticians and many politicians use "migrant" in a different way to the rest of us it seems - a migrant is anyone who comes to live in Australia for more than one year - even if they are expected to leave after a particular date. Thus, any international students who study in Australia for more than a year are "migrants"(or young people on working holidays of a similar length for that matter). Students don't consider themselves as migrants until or if they get permanent residency, a job and settle here for good. But it's this counter-intuitive definition of "migrant" which has driven the public debate and unnecessarily frightened the population with visions of masses of new settlers, potentially placing stress on Australia's infrastructure, environment and way-of life.

There has not been an explosion in the number of permanent migrants to Australia, but there has been a large increase in international students. Nevertheless, IDP Australia estimate just 10-20% of students will ever settle in Australia, and the majority will go back home after their course of study as expected. The statistics show many more students arriving in the last 2-3 years than in previous years and not as many leaving (as the courses last 3-5 years). But they will leave when their time comes of course.

How this can play out in public is best illustrated by considering two related terms and two statistics for 2008/09 financial year (from DIAC):

Net Overseas Migration 313,414
Net Permanent Migration 143,601

Rather different statistics! Recent political conversations have used the net overseas migration figures to argue that we are heading towards an Australia of 35 million+ by 2050. Indeed, permanent migration rates of more than 300,000 per year would be a huge number for the country to absorb, but remember- half are expected to leave our shores in a few years, and in the meantime, far from being a burden, they are fully supporting their stay with their valuable overseas currency.

As international student enrolment numbers are now dropping, the Net Overseas Migration figure will plummet once the larger cohorts begins to go home at the end of their studies. No doubt, somebody will take political credit for this and link it to their policies on asylum seekers and other issues, but in fact it's just a function of turning off the international student pipeline - and in the process losing high value individuals who contribute so much to our economy.

I don't dispute that Net Overseas Migration is a worthwhile statistic (it gives a measure of the pressure exerted by overseas long-term visitors and migrants on infrastructure, for example) but as the indicator of the rate population growth in the public domain, it provides a distorted picture when international students are labelled migrants. As a stand alone figure, permanent migration figures give a more realistic view.

Fred Hilmer, VC of UNSW has also identified this issue and says " don't count these students as immigrants, they're not entitled to be immigrants... "

Helpfully, Hon. Chris Evans in his first address as Education Minister said "Student visas are temporary visas. They are not included in the nation’s permanent migration program numbers, and we remain committed to maintaining our international student program as an
uncapped program."

So, make sure when migrant numbers are quoted, you understand which measure they are using.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Australian Education Agents - We’ve got them all

PIER Agency Finder - www.pierapps.com
In a little over a year, the PIER Agency Finder has grown from being simply an idea, to now containing accurate data on 3291 education agencies in 4587 offices, spread across 115 countries worldwide. We are confident that we now have every education agent representing the Australian market listed in our database, so I thought now would be a good time explain how we have achieved our goal.

Over the past 7 years working at PIER, I have been in charge of the development of 3 separate, unique systems that are accessible by education agents in some form or another. These 3 systems have been developed at different times and for very different reasons, but they all contain core functionality targeted at agents. As these separate systems evolved independently, it became clear to us that the fragmentation of this data was causing an administrative headache, and thus a new suite of products emerged, based around a core, central data repository.

The PIER Agency Finder is the crux of these new products and is where we now store all agency-based data. We store Agency data representing an organisation, and also Office data representing each physical office location. We also store the employees working within each office, all of whom have access to maintain their offices’ subset of data via their own dedicated system, the Counsellor Dashboard.

We have gathered this data via systems like the Education Agent Training Course, the Australian Homestay Network and the newly released ICEF Agent Training Course. We have also dedicated a lot of time and resources to gathering data the old-fashioned way - by manually recording it from public websites, for example. Lastly, we also allow counsellors themselves to add their own office to the list if we don’t already have it.

Now that we have reached our goal of storing every education agent representing Australian providers, we are proud that our hard work has paid off. The PIER Agency Finder is now the most comprehensive public listing of education agents that exists today, and we are dedicated to maintaining the accuracy and currency of all data represented within it.

This system now powers the ACPET Agent Directory, the AIRC Agency Finder and a number of others. It’s also tightly integrated with the ICEF Agent Training Course and the Australian Homestay Network and we are planning on increasing it’s reach within the industry.

I suspect some of you may have got a little lost with the ‘tech-speak’ that is inevitable in a post like this, but hopefully you’re still with me. I will continue to post more tech-oriented articles in the future while Chris’s posts will be more industry-specific.