As the number of international students coming to Australia continues to drop, the Federal Government has announced a review of the student visa program.
The move is being welcomed by the education and business sectors.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans announced the review on Thursday.
“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,” Senator Evans said.
Earlier this year, a review of Australia’s international education sector found there had been an emphasis on revenue rather than quality in some institutions.
The review’s chairman, former Liberal MP Bruce Baird, labelled them “permanent residency factories”.
Mr Baird’s findings led the Federal Government to tighten up student visa requirements.
Universities Australia says it is a breakthrough for the troubled industry.
“We think it is important now to look at student visas more strategically and to also ensure that the policy settings actually support the students that we are hoping to attract particularly to our universities,” said spokeswoman Jennie Lang from the University of New South Wales-International.
“We would like to see the financial impost that is placed on a number of students applying to study in Australia significantly reduced so that what we require is in line with what the US or the UK require.
“We would also like to see the Australian Government start to look at some interesting packages.
“We understand that it was important to break education from migration but at the same time we would really like to see students who are the best students come to Australia and if they so wish, remain in our country for two or three years to work in a professional area and then return home or abroad with a first rate degree.”
The drop in overseas student enrolments has also worried the Business Council of Australia, which has welcomed news of the review.
“With the existing visa program, there seems to be some inconsistency with the way it applies to foreign students from different countries,” policy director Patrick Coleman said.
“We understand that there are issues that need to be examined in relation to how Australia’s visa system compares to countries like the United Kingdom and like America, we need to make sure that we are competitive with those countries.
“Also, the amount of money that students have to demonstrate that they have available and the amount of evidence that they need to provide to support their claims for a visa are all issues that need to be considered.”
Former NSW Labor MP Michael Knight will chair the review of the student visa program.
The Federal Government is expecting his report by mid next year.