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Australian education market faces hard years

Australian immigration department has forecast tough times ahead for its multi-billion dollar international education sector as it said the student enrollments in the country, including from India, would drop more than half by 2014.

world Updated: Jan 11, 2011 12:22 IST

Australian immigration department has forecast tough times ahead for its multi-billion dollar international education sector as it said the student enrollments in the country, including from India, would drop more than half by 2014.

Overseas student arrivals would drop more than half from early 2010 levels by June 2014, the department briefing in the Red Book suggested.

The Red Book attributed the decline to a new points test, tougher immigration checks, assaults on students, a stronger dollar, quality audits of education providers, and a fresh US campaign for Indian students.

Local universities and colleges dependent on overseas students will be forced to compete for a reduced pool of 64,500 overseas student arrivals in 2013-14, compared with 134,700 in March last year, a briefing for incoming Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, released this week, said.

The fall would "more than offset the projected increase in net overseas migration from a continued economic recovery", The Australian reported.

The number of offshore student visa applications approved in 2009-10 plummeted by almost a third from the previous year to 158,240, while rejections rose by almost a quarter to 31,726.

"Indications are that grant numbers will fall further in 2010-11," the Red Book said.

The hardest hit international education market was indicated for Victoria where the downturn has stripped tens of millions of dollars of revenue from individual universities and forced some, such as Monash, to make up the shortfall with voluntary redundancies.

Last month, the government announced a review of the student visa program, along with extra support for the international education sector, in response to the precipitous fall in student numbers.

Earlier, the Immigration Department had said unsustainable growth in international student numbers had put the country's international education and skilled migration programmes at risk.

"The risk is that low-quality education providers become 'visa factories', selling a migration outcome they had no right to offer, gaining an advantage over genuine educators," the briefing said.

It slammed the industry as one "characterised by many low-quality and fraudulent operators, with many students seeking permanent residence rather than Australian qualifications".

Even after the government's earlier reforms, the student visa programme remained subject to "integrity" problems, it noted.

The education sector is Australia's fourth-largest export earner, contributing more than 17 billion Australian dollars last year.

The Red Book also noted that the government was facing a backlash from tens of thousands of overseas students caught by the government's reforms to international education visa programs who were facing a blowout in the overseas student queue for permanent visas and likely rejection, despite grandfathering provisions aimed at smoothing the adjustment.

In addition to the processing backlog of 140,000 applications in the general skilled migration category, there were 29,000 people seeking processing for partner places under the family reunion programme.

The department warned the backlogs could spark legal action from disaffected people awaiting processing as, under the Migration Act, a person who lodged a valid application was entitled to a decision.

"The use of priority processing directions in recent years, so as to selectively target applications for skilled migration, in combination with high applicant numbers, has meant that some people are persistently at the bottom of the queue with their application unprocessed," the brief said.