Risk ratings could ‘damage’ long-term health of Aus education sector

Published 10/04/2024

The latest release of immigration risk ratings for international education providers in Australia has raised questions about the best approach to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

In the wake of soaring international student visa rejections, 11 Australian universities and up to 100 colleges have recently had their risk rating downgraded, prompting further questions about government immigration policies and the competitiveness of the Australian education sector on the global stage.

The risk ratings system was conceived as part of the simplified student visa framework (SSVF) in 2016, which was intended reduce red-tape for providers and improve integrity. The ratings are determined by the number of potential students at any institution whose visas are rejected or cancelled, or who seek asylum or overstay illegally.

The problem is, it is now seemingly being used as a tool to manage migration numbers and heavily discriminate between providers, according to Mike Ferguson, former Department of Home Affairs director of international education policy and original designer of the SSVF.

“[The SSVF] was an attempt to create a more sustainable framework by levelling the playing field and placing greater onus on the immigration department, rather than providers, for student visa decision-making,” he said.

However, the current focus on using a provider risk model has created a circular logic, where lower-risk institutions benefit while higher-risk ones face reduced enrolments, he argued.

“If a provider has a high visa grant rate, the student is more likely to get their visa, which then means the provider will continue to have a high visa grant rate,” Ferguson added.

Ferguson argued it would be a fairer system if it was not dependent on provider risk, but if all students were required to provide information about their financial capacity and language skills, regardless of where they plan to study.

“This would also help to address some of the integrity issues that are currently being faced, as well as the targeting of lower risk providers by non-genuine students,” he said.

The financial impact on the sector as a result of the drop in numbers is already apparent. Following the announcement from the minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil in December that immigration officials should prioritise visa processing for the least risky institutions, many universities had to cancel enrolments and students were left out of pocket for visa fees.

Reports have estimated universities are already out of pocket by more than AUS$300 million.

It is a situation that has led to calls for broader reform from among the sector, which contributed to more than half of the nation’s 1.5% GDP growth last year through spending from international students, according to analysis from NAB.

“We need to acknowledge how important international students are, not only for universities and colleges but also for the overall economy,” said strategist Ant Bagshaw.

“There will be massive long-term consequences if we deny students entry now – a lot of people may just defer but increasingly they’ll be looking at other options,” he continued.

“There will be massive long-term consequences if we deny students entry now”

One of those solutions could be a greater involvement from universities in addressing the current housing shortage and working to create sustainable solutions for the future.

“I think the issue is the government is trying to address the housing shortage by reducing demand, but the real problem is supply. So how do can universities think creatively and be part of the solution on housing supply?” Bagshaw said.

Ultimately, a focus on the rating system may be distracting from the broader issue and the importance of international students, he argued.

“In a way, we are squabbling over shrinking pie, and that I think is a distraction from saying, no, we need a bigger pie.”

The post Risk ratings could ‘damage’ long-term health of Aus education sector appeared first on The PIE News.