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Huge change for overseas students

Written by on May 13, 2024

Universities will be forced to cap numbers of overseas student enrolments as part of Labor’s efforts to ease pressures on Australia’s housing market and slash the migration intake ahead of the next election.

The federal government will introduce new legislation to set limits for the maximum number of new international student enrolments.

New laws, set to be introduced this week, would give Education Minister Jason Clare sweeping powers to set the overseas student intake for universities after decades of unprecedented growth,

Currently, about 1400 universities and colleges are registered to enrol international students.

As of February 2024, about 703,245 international students were enrolled to study in Australia, compared with 578,930 in 2019.

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said universities had agreed to work with the government on the proposed plan, saying it was vital to restore integrity “at the heart” of the country’s migration system.

“I think it is right that the government in conjunction with the universities should consider and should have a say about all of the people coming to Australia and the conditions that they arrive as students and I think that’s part of a responsible and mature discussion for the government to have,” Senator Gallagher told the ABC on Monday.

Under the new laws, higher education providers under investigation for serious regulation breaches will be banned from recruiting students from overseas. It will also force newly registered universities and colleges to prove a demonstrated track record of quality course delivery for domestic students before allowing foreign enrolments.

Melbourne’s RMIT University has the highest number of international students in Australia with 26,590 students, followed by Monash University, and Curtin University with 15,000.

Opposition finance spokeswoman Jane Hume said the Coalition wanted to see more details on student caps before it backed any changes.

“Labor keeps telling us that they’re cracking down, but it just doesn’t seem to be working. Housing completions aren’t keeping up with immigration, there’s a resurgence in illegal boat arrivals, this is an area of profound failure of government,” she said.

“Hopefully, this is a policy that is backed up with evidence but frankly it may be too little too late because we’re already in a per capita recession – we’re only being propped up by those migration figures, it’s really important this budget delivers on its promise to restore economic growth.”

Vicki Thomson, the chief of the Group of Eight peak group representing Australia’s largest universities, said she supported the government’s plan but urged that any changes to student caps be well-thought and considered.

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“If the problems are neither simple nor one-dimensional then the solutions won’t be either,” the Go8 boss said.

“While pressures are building in Sydney and Melbourne, the situation in other parts of Australia look quite different. Adelaide, for example, needs more international students to meet its workforce commitments around strategic projects, such as AUKUS.”

Tuesday’s budget is expected to include measures to increase non-refundable student visa fees and wipe out about $3bn in HECS-HELP student debt as part of changes to the indexation rate.