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25th Oct 2023

Australia: Parliamentary report recommends diversification and expanded regulation of agents

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The interim report from a continuing parliamentary inquiry in Australia’s international education sector provides wide-ranging recommendations designed to boost the competitiveness of the sector
  • The report prioritises diversification in Australia’s foreign enrolment, but also a number of different aspects of the student experience, including transition to work opportunities and housing
  • The authors also call for expanded government regulation of education agents, and a range of additional transparency and reporting measures

A much-anticipated parliamentary report detailing the results of an inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors has just been released. Produced by the Trade Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the report, entitled Quality and Integrity – the Quest for Sustainable Growth: Interim Report into International Education, provides 29 recommendations for the Australian government “based on strengthening the integrity and enhancing the competitiveness of Australia’s international education sector.”

Across its many recommendations, the report proposes a more integrated approach to marketing Australia as a study destination and “diversification into new and emerging geographic markets.”

The report also makes several recommendations concerning expanded regulation of education agents, and argues that, “The Government accept that regulation of education agents is essential and long overdue, and that a model must be determined and implemented…Any model will need to ensure compliance with a single Code of Ethical Practice for Education Agents setting expected standards for all education agents who work with Australian education providers.”

Adopt a “Team Australia” approach

The report asserts that key to boosting the Australian international sector’s competitiveness is that “Government lead a ‘Team Australia’ programme to build a stronger national international education brand and platform and agree on a five-year prioritised Market Diversification Plan.” This includes (1) better coordination among government agencies tasked with education employment and relatedly, (2) an end to fragmented and/or divisive marketing in international markets by various stakeholders in the industry.

Invest in new markets

“Team Australia should prioritise the development of a five-year Market Diversification Plan into new and emerging geographic markets,” says the report. Recommended new regions for student recruitment are “sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South and Central America (considering for example Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Colombia and Chile).”

The report also considers it important to build stronger ties with the islands of Blue Pacific region (e.g., Fiji, Kiribati, Tonga, Palau) by creating compelling educational offerings relevant to the islands' geography and developmental priorities.

Make it easier for Australian employers to hire international students

Recognising that post-graduate work rights are so vital to international students and that Australia needs international talent to plug skills gaps in the economy, the report says it is crucial that employers be educated on the benefits of hiring international students. It advocates for the creation of “campaigns [that] combat employer confusion and misinformation about graduate work rights, visa conditions, and pathways to permanent residency (where available).”

Integrate more work placements and structures around them

Most international students choose to study abroad believing that their decision will provide them with better skills and opportunities for a successful career than they could expect if they stayed at home for education. The report emphasises the need for the establishment of a national work-integrated learning framework, and it notes that competitor countries are leveraging in-study work opportunities in their marketing abroad:

“Further sandwich courses, higher education apprenticeships and other paid work and learn integrated models of study are increasingly common in jurisdictions with whom Australia competes for international students. These models offer better integration between industry and educational entities and should be given immediate consideration by a taskforce established by the Government.”

Address accommodation shortages

As in so many other destinations, many international students are having trouble finding suitable and affordable housing in Australia. The report urges state governments and universities to develop the homestay model and make it more attractive to Australian homeowners, and to “urgently work to foster the expansion of the Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector.” Specifically, it recommends:

  • “Examining mechanisms to boost domestic and superannuation fund investment into PBSA (as the majority of capital invested at present is foreign) including support for a new asset class of PBSA, recognising that it is now a mature and specialist housing product.
  • Engaging with state, territory and local governments to remove planning and development impediments to PBSA developments.
  • Working with regional universities and considering incentives to support PBSA developments in regional Australia.”

Strengthening integrity

Information sharing across international education sectors is crucial to identifying bad actors undermining the integrity of the industry, says the report.

“The Committee recommends the Government use whatever means at its disposal to compel education providers to … share credible information and concerns regarding education agents, entities and student movements … and to disrupt non-genuine students and other entities seeking to exploit the international education sector, the student visa system, and international students.”

The VET sector is singled out for “persistent and deep-seated integrity issues” and the report recommends a series of potential, dramatic actions that could be considered to address these, including the suspension of providers’ ability to recruit and host international students.

Protecting international students

The committee determined the need for a targeted communication strategy to educate:

  • “International students of their rights and obligations when studying in Australia;
  • Providers and education agents of their obligations to international students studying in Australia;
  • Employers and industries that are high employers of international students.”

The government is urged to mandate the inclusion of certain passages in agreements between educators and students, including language around refund conditions as well as the disclosure of any commissions paid to agents.

Tighten up practices with agents

Several recommendations focus on agents, including:

  • “An expansion of the current Education Agents Dashboard on Provider Registration and International Student Management System (PRISMS) to allow provider access to all education agents' information. Such an expansion should enable providers to consider an agent’s performance before entering contractual arrangements and to be able to compare agent performance or integrity concerns about individual agents across the sector.”
  • And, as noted earlier, “compliance with a single Code of Ethical Practice for Education Agents setting expected standards for all education agents who work with Australian education providers.”

An underfunded part of Australian tourism

An article in The Koala News laments the lack of much comment on the key intersection between international education and tourism in Australia. It points out as well that Australia’s education marketing efforts are considerably underfunded relative to international competitors. The article explains that:

“Study Australia’s budget [under AUS$6 million] is extremely modest given the direct revenue and soft power influences potential of international education for Australia. International education revenue (including students here under 12 months and over 12 months) generates sixty-eight per cent of international tourism spend in Australia.”

While Tourism Australia spent close to AUS$60 million in advertising and research in 2021/22, The Koala News notes that “Austrade’s marketing spend for international education for the same year (2021/22) was $6,883,923.”

The report compared the marketing spend for international education in Australia to competitor countries. For example:

“In FY 21/22 the British Council spent £175 million (approx. AUD $335 million) on encouraging educational cooperation and promotion the advancement of education.

In 2019, the Canadian Government announced a new international education strategy backed by government investment of CDN$147.9 million (approx. AUD$165 million) over five years, starting in 2019–20, with a further CDN$8.0 million (approx. AUD$9 million) per year, ongoing.”

For additional background, please see:

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