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".