Friday, November 14, 2008

Minister plans ban on shaky visa deals

The Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, wants tougher laws to combat the rise of shonky education agents promising Australian visas to overseas students when they can deliver no such thing.

Increasingly, unscrupulous dealers in Australia and overseas are selling dubious study packages offering tuition, work experience and an Australian visa, a Senate committee heard yesterday.So worrying was the practice that Senator Evans said he had recently raised it with the Chinese ambassador.

"I have very severe concerns about education agents both in this country and abroad," Senator Evans said.

"If someone gets induced and sold a package in their home country, there's very little we can currently do about that. They arrive with expectations that can't be delivered."

Senator Evans said a lot of the promotion of such packages happened overseas. They purported to glean favourable visa outcomes for would-be students when in fact education agents could not provide immigration advice.

Senator Evans said he was working with the Education Minister, Julia Gillard, to increase the legislative powers available to Australia in tackling the problem.

He had also talked with representatives from Australian universities.

"Obviously they don't want anything that undermines the reputation of Australia's education services," Senator Evans said.

The National Liaison Committee, Australia's peak representative body for international students, said the exploitation began with the introduction of full-fee paying foreign students in 1986, and was worse now.

"It's getting serious now with more private institutions being set up to recruit international students overseas," the committee's president, Eric Pang, said. "Many students are not aware of their rights as consumers. The recruitment agents are profit driven and obviously, looking for numbers. The students are looking for quality education."He said foreign students were pumped with misinformation which led to disappointment and culture shock when they arrived in Australia.

"The gap between perception and reality can be really big, depending on how pretty a picture is being painted by agents offshore. International students need accurate information," Mr Pang said.

Tougher regulation of overseas recruitment agencies was required to stem the problem, many of which were tied to private education providers operating in Australia, Mr Pang said.

He could not say how many students had been drawn to Australia on false promises of a visa.

Meanwhile, the Department of Immigration said it may have to compensate as many as 191 people for wrongful detention.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman, John McMillan, found last year that 247 Australian citizens, permanent residents and lawful visa holders had been wrongly detained between 1993 and 2007.

Yesterday a lawyer for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Robyn Bicket, told a Senate committee those cases had been reviewed.

"Currently we are at 191 cases we believe there is risk of legal liability for compensation," she said.

Compensation has been offered in 40 cases, of which 17 have been settled at a total cost of $1.2 million, she said.

In the year to June 30, the department spent $4.1 million in compensation. Cornelia Rau, the permanent resident wrongly detained for 10 months, was awarded $2.6 million.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reining in rogue colleges

SUNSHINE College of Management teaches hairdressing and hospitality — two subjects with apparently little in common, except that both fields of work appear on the Federal Government's list of desperately needed skills from migrants. In fact, what they do have in common is that international students who complete such courses are awarded extra migration points, taking them one step closer to what many want: permanent residency.

In the foyer of the college, as a gesture towards the hairdressing course, two mannequin heads sit atop the reception desk, their wigs slightly askew. The receptionist is busy taking calls. Behind doors labelled Kitchen 1 and Kitchen 2 are shelves piled high with pots and pans. There are spoons, whisks and bowls ready for hospitality classes. But on this day the kitchens are not in use. The lights are out, exhaust fans are silent and there are no cooking smells. In fact, there are no students.

For the full article, please go to: The Age

Monday, September 15, 2008

Overseas students compete for Melbourne rentals

AUSTRALIA (excerpt from ABC Radio): In the first of three special reports on education, we look at the housing crisis facing international students here in the Australian city of Melbourne. With high house prices and lots of rental competition, the challenge facing overseas students in finding a place to live can be overwhelming.

Presenter: Kate McPherson
Speakers: Danielle Hartridge from Victoria University; Toby Archer, Tenancy Union of Victoria, Australia; Nicole Vandendungen, Hocking Stuart Real Estate Agents, Melbourne


MCPHERSON: Last year the Australian Government granted student visas to over 228,000 international students. Melbourne is currently home to over 11,000 international students, most coming from South and North East Asia. Finding adequate accommodation for everyone is very difficult as these international students at Melbourne University explain.

JAPANESE STUDENT: I was trying to find a house through a website but I couldn't find one with a good prices and it is hard for me because I couldn't speak English well. And at the moment I'm living with friends in the same room, so I'm still looking for a house.

MALAYSIAN STUDENT: Prices seem to be quite high here in Melbourne.

CHINESE STUDENT: It's really hard to find a house because the prices are really high if you find any place near the city and there are no rooms available after the semester begins.

MCPHERSON: Another student from Malaysia is on a scholarship which assists in his payments but he says there are still challenges.

STUDENT: It is difficult especially for international students, the landlords prefer local I suppose.

MCPHERSON: Here at RMIT's city campus international and local students are having their regular game of basketball.
When you first came to Australia did you find it hard to find somewhere to live?

THAI STUDENT: It took about one to two months to find a share house.

MCPHERSON: So you were happy when you found an apartment?

THAI STUDENT: Yes very happy?now we have a home.

MCPHERSON: International students searching for accommodation are particularly susceptible to being misled because their knowledge of tenancy laws is minimal. Many students sign contracts that effectively remove legal safeguards.
Prospective students are urged to do thorough background checks before they sign anything. Toby Archer is from the Tenancy Union of Victoria an organisation which represents the interests of those who rent accommodation.

ARCHER: Key advice to students that have fallen pray to a shonky operator is to seek help and they shouldn't be afraid to seek help either from Tenants Union or University Housing.

MCPHERSON: Mr Archer says Universities play a key roll in providing housing for students.

ARCHER: In the context of plummeting rental affordability the key thing is that universities need to invest in additional housing for their students when the opportunities arise.

MCPHERSON: Victoria University is addressing the lack of accommodation. International Student Support manager Danielle Hartridge.

HARTRIDGE: International students are no different from local people in that they are finding it hard to get accommodation. We have at least three private developments that are going up around the campus. Australia's Reserve Bank this week reduced interest rates for the first time in nearly seven years. Vacancy rates may increase slightly but will prices decrease? Nicole Vandendungen from Hocking Stuart:

VANDENDUNGEN: Prices in the rental market will stay relatively the same now. I don't think we will have the dramatic increase as we have seen over the past 12 - 18 months.

MCPHERSON: Danielle Hartridge from Victoria University has some final advice.

HARTRIDGE: There are a lot of accommodation options that are available, there's a number of private organisation that do offer home stay that have a number of families on their books. I think this is an option that some students will have to start considering rather than the private rental market because it is going to become more and more difficult.

Source: ABC Radio

Monday, August 11, 2008

Overseas students flout work rules

INTERNATIONAL students are making a mockery of immigration laws by flouting visa conditions which limit them to 20-hour working weeks, with those driving taxis in Victoria clocking up to twice as many hours behind the wheel as they're allowed.

Despite a warning from Immigration Minister Chris Evans that taxi owners who employed students in breach of their visa restrictions risked up to two years' jail, cab advocacy bodies and student drivers revealed the industry was largely ignoring the law.

Student bodies have urged the Rudd Government to lift the 20-hour cap, saying overseas pupils should be entitled to juggle their academic commitments with as many hours of work as they can manage.

The Australian understands the Howard government planned to target Victorian taxi businesses as a first step in a national crackdown on students who were rorting the employment restrictions of their visas.

Victorian Taxi Drivers Association secretary Thomas Henderson, whose organisation represents the interests of both driver and owner members, admitted some holders of student visas were clocking up to 40 hours a week on the road.

"One work shift consists of 12 hours and even if they do two shifts they're already done four extra hours," Mr Henderson said. "But the moment (working hours) start to come to the notice of the authorities, it starts to become verydifficult for students because they are only allowed to work 20 hours a week."

The National Liaison Committee for International Students in Australia played down visa breaches, saying increasing living expenses were pushing overseas pupils to work beyond their limits.

NLC president Eric Pang said the federal Government should abolish the 20-hour working week limit and allow students to work at their own discretion.

"The working hours should be up to the students and the institutions," he said. "If the student can study full time and is performing well (academically) then, yes, they can work more than 20 hours. If they can't perform well in their studies, then they shouldn't work more than 20 hours.

"The new Government should be reviewing this (working) policy but the aim should be to provide more flexibility and more rights in terms of how much (students) want to work and how much they want to study."

The federal Government has given no indication it is considering relaxing the law. Senator Evans said taxi owners who employed students in breach of their visas also risked a fine of up to $13,200.

"Taxi owners, like all employers, are responsible for ensuring that overseas workers -- including students -- abide by their visa conditions," he said.

It is understood former immigration minister Kevin Andrews wanted to pursue student visa rorters working as cab drivers through the Victorian Taxi Directorate.

In the lead-up to last November's federal election, Mr Andrews was planning to demand the personal details of student taxi drivers from the VTD to determine the number of hours they had been working. Anyone found to have breached their visa conditions would have risked being deported.

Mr Henderson said student drivers, many of whom drove at night, shouldn't have to pay taxes because they had to put up with disorderly passengers. "If you ever think about what these poor guys have to put up with, then they shouldn't be taxed at all," he said.

Source: The Australian

Monday, July 28, 2008

Foreign students at capacity level

Australia's international education body has signalled a change of course in foreign student education with a new focus on maintaining the $12.5 billion industry rather than growing it.

The shift comes as universities indicate they have reached capacity in their foreign student intakes, and concern over "fragility" in the international education sector.

Universities rely on foreign student fees for an average of 15% of their overall funding.

Australian Education International (AEI), the international arm of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, will focus on broadening the range of countries from which international students come, encouraging diversity in the courses they study, enriching the links between Australian and overseas institutions, and getting the international student numbers right.

About 65% of foreign students come from Asia, with half of them studying management and commerce, mostly in Melbourne and Sydney.

AEI chief executive Fiona Buffinton told The Age: "Certainly, I would say that sustainability is the aim" rather than growth as in previous years.

She said the first phase of international higher education involved Commonwealth scholarships to international students as part of a foreign aid scheme.

The second phase was a "very commercial sort of view" for the past 20 years, which encouraged growth. "Now universities are certainly looking at what I think is the third phase, which is the sustainable model," she said.

She denied the commercial model for growth had been unsustainable. "We've got to keep evolving and improving on what is considered to be a good model," she said.

To draw students from a wider range of countries, AEI has opened offices in the Middle East and Latin America, part of a bid to protect the industry from regional economic downturns.

View the full article at: http://www.theage.com.au/national/foreign-students-at-capacity-level-20080725-3l39.html?page=-1

Welcome to nation of university ghettos

A Widening gulf between local and foreign university students is creating segregated classes, cultural cliques and religious ghettos, raising fears of a backlash on campuses.

International education is a $12.5 billion industry, and foreign students' fees account for an average 15 per cent of universities' overall funding, but a higher education experts warns of "informal but real segregation".

Professor Simon Marginson, from the Centre for Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, said local students tended to work off campus and were not active in student life, and international students spent most of their time on campus, generally in the library.

While the atmosphere on campuses generally supported foreign students, Professor Marginson said: "So you've got this odd situation with the local students half-disengaged in a way I've never really seen before. The international student industry runs off the back of a reasonably strong local system which presumes a healthy relationship with the local students … all of that has become the marketing pitch. That's the flashpoint that worries me more than any other - that it could spring back into resentment."

Almost two-thirds of international students are from Asia, and many have no contact with local students. Eric Pang, president of the National Liaision Committee for International Students in Australia, said foreign students were not given a strong welfare system and had to rely on peers for support, yet were accused of failing to integrate. Many had told the committee: "There's not much international students can learn from Australia in terms of culture, or in terms of English. After all, the standard of English of Australian students is not high anyway."

Read the full article at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/07/22/1216492448152.html?feed=fairfaxdigitalxml

Friday, July 11, 2008

PIER Online is getting Lively!

At PIER, we are dedicated to providing innovative solutions for delivering information and resources to the International Education sector within Australia and around the world.

Today, we are very pleased to announce that we will soon be trialling an exciting new way to deliver discussions online in a dynamic 3D environment just released by Google, named Google Lively.

Lively is an interactive 3D chat room, managed by PIER, of which up to 100 guests can join, and 20 of those can participate by asking questions. We have setup two rooms already, one for the PIER team in which our administrators, developers & Diploma tutors will be available at certain times to assist with any questions you may have.



The next room is the PIER conference room, where we will hold presentations and seminars at specific occasions throughout the year.



We hope to see some of you drop by and say hello in the next few weeks as we work on designing the PIER Lively rooms and adding useful materials. Please leave us any comments you may have.

Note: Google Lively is a BETA release product and requires Windows XP and Internet Explorer or Firefox to run. In order to join a room, you must use a Google Account (your Gmail username if you have one). A Google Account is very easy to sign up for and gives you access to all of Google's wide range of services.

Monday, June 2, 2008

PIER webserver - access

Dear PIER users, Diploma students and EATC members,

Due to a fire at our DNS provider, you may experience difficulties with accessing the www.pieronline.org website and its pages. Alternatively, you may use this mirror site:
http://www.onlinetrainingnow.com/
(Please use this site temporarily until further notice)

Thank you for your understanding,

The PIER Team

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Australian education gets international seal of approval

International students have expressed high levels of satisfaction in their courses of study and work outcomes in Australia, according to an international student survey released today.

The Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has welcomed the results of the 2007 Follow-up International Student Survey, which was commissioned by Australian Education International.

The survey found that 68 per cent of international students who had completed a higher education course held a full time or part time job, 18 per cent were doing further full time or part time study and not working, and 5 per cent were unemployed and actively seeking a job.

Of those who had completed a vocational education and training course, 67 per cent held a full time or part time job, 26 per cent were doing further full time or part time study and not working, and 4 per cent were unemployed and actively seeking a job.

This is a positive outcome for the many thousands of international students who come to study in Australia every year, and a clear international endorsement of the quality of Australian education.

The overall positive experience of international students in Australia was reflected in around 75 per cent of them intending to become permanent residents at some point in the future.

International education is Australia’s third largest export earner and a great force for international cooperation, to which the Australian Government is strongly committed.

The earlier survey, released in 2007, identified education quality, richness of student experience and enhanced employment prospects as key reasons international students choose Australia.

The follow up survey, in which more than 2000 students participated, sought to determine whether Australia had met students’ expectations in these areas and the extent to which they had achieved their career or further education aspirations following course completion.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Foreigners are 'exploited'

Dear Colleagues,

The following article -found in the Higher Education section of The Australian newspaper- addresses key issues overseas student are facing whilst studying in Australia. We would like to hear about your experience and/or opinion about these issues.

Thanking you,

PIER Team



Foreigners are 'exploited'

CONTRARY to their image as cashed-up BMW drivers, many overseas students cannot afford to eat, are paid well below the minimum wage and are among those most vulnerable to exploitation in this country, new research says.

More than one-third of overseas students struggle financially and about 60 per cent are paid less than the legal minimum wage, according to the research.

The alarming findings come as education overtakes tourism as the nation's biggest services export, increasing by a huge 21 per cent in 2007 to $12.5 billion. The number of international student enrolments rose 18 per cent on the previous year to more than 450,000, the latest figures show.

The authors of the joint Monash University and University of Melbourne studies slammed universities for treating foreign students like "cash cows", and criticised the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee (now known as Universities Australia) for failing to include overseas students in a recent student welfare study.

They wrote that "many internationals are disadvantaged by their relative deficit of language and cultural skills, they are crowded into a narrower range of jobs than is available to their domestic peers, and they commonly offset these disadvantages by working for less than the legal (minimum)".

The two papers, one on international students in the workforce and the other on the financial difficulties faced by overseas students, were based on interviews with 200 students at nine universities across Australia.

The researchers found that almost 60 per cent of students earned below the minimum wage and 37per cent had experienced financial hardship, including not having enough money to travel to university or even eat.

"I had a very hard time finding a job. (For the) first two months I was unemployed," one 36-year-old Indian student told researchers. "My rent is very high - it's $120 a week - and other than that you have travelling, eating, everything.

"So I starved."

The researchers discovered 70 per cent of international students worked at some stage during their studies in Australia and a number admitted to working more than the maximum 20 hours allowed by their study visas.

"Of the students who reported their hourly rate, 58 per cent earned between $7 and $15 per hour at a time when the legal minimum for a casual waiter was $16.08 an hour and the rate for a casual shop assistant was $17.97 per hour," the study states.

Conducted by Simon Marginson, Chris Nyland, Erlenawati Sawir, Gaby Ramia and Helen Forbes-Mewett, the research also found foreign students were more likely to be exploited because of their lack of English skills and ignorance of workplace rights. The researchers called for urgent action by governments and universities.

They urged better education for international students about their workplace rights and better investigations by workplace authorities to expose the injustices experienced by working overseas students.

Professor Nyland and his colleagues wrote that the decision by UA not to include overseas students in its finances study "sadly lends credence to the much repeated claim that Australian university managers view international students primarily as customers who exist to be milked".

But UA chief executive Glenn Withers rejected the claim that tertiary institutions treated international students like cash cows and don't care about their welfare.

He defended the decision not to include international students in their student finances survey, saying that that survey was targeted at the federal government to try to improve income support for domestic students.

Dr Withers said universities were helping overseas students where they could by providing support services and going into public-private partnerships to construct accommodation for students close to campuses.

"The biggest problems are the exchange rate - and universities cannot control that - and expensive housing, and universities cannot control that either," he said.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23166220-12332,00.html