NEVILLE ROACH. International student in Australia post-COVID-19

Australia’s tertiary institutions, reliant on tuition paid by overseas students, and the Federal government need to understand why these students choose this country if Australia is to remain a competitive international destination post-COVID-19.

With courses now being delivered online, not only by Australian universities but by competing universities in other countries, especially the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, there could be a significant drop in the number of international students coming to Australia for their education.

We need to understand what it is that attracts overseas students to choose Australia over other destinations. We may like to think that it is the high quality of our universities and the global recognition of their qualifications. However, that would be wishful thinking. The competing countries, especially the USA and UK, remain the destination of choice, especially in China and India, which provide the bulk of our international students. The primary attraction of Australia is that gaining a degree here could be a pathway towards permanent residence and citizenship.

In the heightened global competitive environment that will follow the COVID-19 crisis, we need to reconsider the significant challenges that our current immigration processes pose to international students to obtain permanent residence. Given that we are still likely to continue with a significant migration program, international students should be high on our target list of potential migrants.

After all, they have Australian qualifications, making them eligible to fill skilled jobs in this country. Moreover, having spent 3 or more years in Australia, they know us and we know them. They are, therefore, already making a well-considered decision to live here and are highly likely to be very productive and successful new citizens.

Unfortunately, the current pathway is cumbersome, uncertain and expensive and long drawn out. It is as if we don’t want them to stay here, treating them more like unwanted asylum seekers than highly valuable prospective migrants. The rationale for this is very difficult to understand.

We seem to place as many obstacles in their path as possible, including requiring them to once again prove their English language skills by resitting the IELTS tests, surely a redundant and absurd requirement, given that they have actually completed tertiary studies in English at a recognised Australian higher education institution and even paid for the privilege!  Many of them actually find the process so difficult that they give up and return home, looking for migration opportunities in other countries.

One can only hope that, in the ultra-competitive world that will follow the COVID-19 crisis, the Australian Government will reconsider the current difficulties we put in the path of overseas students who want to stay here permanently. We should recognise that the prospect of permanent residence is the most significant competitive advantage we have relative to all other competing countries.

Let’s make it clear to them that, once they have completed their studies and obtained Australian qualifications that would make them eligible for permanent residence, they are welcome to apply and offer them as much assistance as we can to help them in the process.

Surely, this would be a positive a win-win outcome all round!

Neville J Roach AO Former Chairman of Australian Government’s Business (Migration) Advisory Panel


Neville J Roach AO Former Chairman of Australian Government’s Business (Migration) Advisory Panel.

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9 Responses to NEVILLE ROACH. International student in Australia post-COVID-19

  1. Avatar Neville Roach says:

    Retraction/Correction relating to Article on International students in Australia post-COVID-19 by Neville Roach

    After reading the comments on my recent article and obtaining additional information on the English Language capability of Overseas Students, I realise that my expectation that their degree implied a standard above the IELTS tests was not valid for a considerable number of them. So, I no longer advocate that they do not need to take the IELTS tests. What this reveals, though, is that our degree courses are not delivering fair value in return for the very high fees we charge our international students. This indicates a level of dishonesty and corruption that needs fixing immediately both from a moral perspective and to improve our national reputation and that of our higher education institutions as providers of high quality world standard education. We should immediately require all international students to pass the IELTS tests early, say in the first semester or year, of their course. This may make it harder to attract international students, but there is no excuse not to do it!
    April 24, 2020

    • Avatar Charles Lowe says:

      Kerry, could you please be a bit more specific?

      Just exactly in which respect do international students not compete with local applicants equally?

      And what do you mean by “realistic’ in fee setting (particularly for medical schools)? Are you saying that medical courses set their fees in order to maximally gouge the most likely cohort of wealthy international students, thereby affording an opportunity to divert some of those inflated fees to expensive research? If so, I wish you would have said so.

  2. Avatar Ravi Marwaha says:

    Quite agree. I do think we should be mindful of quality so that we do not exploit students who are not really eligible with poor courses. For the good students the welcome mat needs to be bigger. For people who think we are discrimination against Australian students I would suggest we think of them as Australians as soon as they arrive and are competent. Then discrimination vanishes.

  3. Avatar Margaret Callinan says:

    I’m one who is hoping that “after the virus” there will be a thorough examination of the education system and its over-reliance on the fees of international students. And also that schooling here, of whatever quality, seems to bypass all other immigration concerns. Australian educational institutions should be designed and supported by government funding for Australian students. If a “small” minority of international students would fit into this model, that is sufficient to maintain sovereignty both of course content and funding. In my working days I saw too many international students whose grasp of English left a lot to be desired.
    The private colleges should also be looked at. Their Mickey Mouse courses educate nobody. They are visa factories, pure and simple.
    Currently, both education and immigration systems in Australia are not fit for purpose, except to serve political ideologies.

  4. Avatar Jocelyn Pixley says:

    A number of my students were made to pay for two separate English as a foreign language courses. The Administration did not seem to care about this; nor did most Admins attempt to improve the way Academics and students could be actual universities. Standards dropped; short courses were imposed for short-term overseas students. I could go on; notably the way so many Admins use and abuse the next generation of academic staff by keeping so many on a terrible casual-insecure short-term job. Librarians also have been “slimmed down”.

  5. Avatar Kerry Breen says:

    It is refreshing to see a statement of the obvious, that many fee-paying international students seek to remain in Australia. It is estimated that around 70% of fee paying medical students remain here after graduation and eventually obtain permanent residence. However, should this proposal be accepted then two moral issues need to be addressed. First the international students must compete with local applicants for medical school places on an equal footing. Second, the fees they are charged must be realistic and should not include a profit then put to other purposes. For medicine – and perhaps for some other professional courses – an open in-depth inquiry into the issues around selling education to international students needs to be conducted.

  6. Avatar Nathan Rees says:

    Neville, 100% spot on.

  7. Avatar peter job says:

    There has clearly been an overly reliance on overseas students by universities and other institutions, including private colleges. The action by universities may well be in response to the significant cuts to funding in universities, but also to profits. The opportunities for overseas students to get permanent residence, or to work after graduating has already been expanded excessively to make our institutions more internationally competitive. But there is a major impact on Australian graduates attempting to compete for work in the fields of graduation. There must be a priority for Australian students above those of overseas students, who came here to study and return home with their new found skills.

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