Aus reiterates cap measures in budget

Published 15/05/2024

The Australian budget for 2024-2025 came with no real surprises for the international education sector, after a draft framework announced on May 11 outlined a “soft cap” on international student enrolment.

One key element of the budget, announced on May 14, reiterated the format of the proposed cap, saying the government will “work with the higher education sector to develop regulations that will require universities to increase their supply of student accommodation”.

“The government will require universities to establish new, purpose-built student accommodation should they wish to increase their international student enrolments above their initial allocation,” the budget’s statement on Meeting Australia’s Housing Challenge detailed.

“Any new accommodation built will be available to both local and international students. This reform will build more student housing, reduce pressure on house prices and rents in our cities and ensure universities continue to benefit from the overseas student market,” it continued.

This is not a surprise after the announcement on May 11, that is set to see international student enrolments decided by the education minister and tied to moves to build more housing for students.

“In tackling the housing crisis, we might be undermining the economic contribution international students bring to Australia,” Devarshi Desai, co-founder and CEO of Studynash, told The PIE.

He also mentioned that he has seen a rise in students visas being “rejected for generic reasons”, and the prospect of the cap has also prompted his receipt of many messages from prospective students.

“Because of this, even those students who primarily want to study in Australia are forced to consider other countries. Adding a cap-style legislation might only enhance this issue,” Desai added.

In a bright spot for international students looking to study in Australia, though, there was an absence of bad news on one issue that had the sector in a spin: a visa fee hike.

There was speculation of a meteoric rise for the student visa fee – Ravi Lochan Singh,managing director of Global Reach agency, predicted the rise would be more modest, perhaps taking it to a total of just under AU$1,000. However, it was not mentioned anywhere in the budget.

What the budget did promise, however, is its commitment to further reducing net migration.

“There have been more than enough proposed legislative changes to cut net migration and it has sent out a very negative message to the international student community in India,” noted SIEC Pty managing director, Sonya Singh, speaking to The PIE.

“Students have numerous other options and this will be Australia’s loss… to the Australian economy, its labour market, its cultural diversity and its future plans of growth.

“The Australian market is shrinking rapidly as a proffered destination and the government may not need this legislation to cap numbers,” she added.

Key recommendations were made in the budget in response to the Australian Universities Accord, which offered a lot of help for domestic students including debt relief, and promised to develop a new funding system for Commonwealth supported places to meet student demand.

“In tackling the housing crisis, we might be undermining the economic contribution international students bring”

A new Tertiary Education Commission to act as a “steward” of the education system will also be implemented as part of the budget’s measures, and a full Implementation Advisory Committee has already been formed to engage with the sector on designing the Commission.

However the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia voiced its “strong concern” regarding the fact no representatives from independent higher education providers were installed on the committee.

“The fact that independent higher education providers [including] the vast majority of dual sector providers are excluded from the Advisory Committee not only undermines the inclusivity of the Australian Universities Accord reform process, but also diminishes the potential for comprehensive sectoral integration,” a statement read.

The VET sector has been under heightened scrutiny after regulators raised concerns regarding course switching quality and other issues.

Also included in the budget was the announcement of Fee-Free Uni Ready courses for domestic students, and Prac payments for teaching, nursing and social work students.

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