International education cutbacks ‘jeopardising Accord agenda’

Canberra should not stifle university revenue while unrolling expensive equity reforms, says implementation committee member

May 21, 2024
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The Australian government’s efforts to limit overseas enrolments are putting its signature higher education reforms at risk, according to a member of the advisory group tasked with implementing the reforms.

Verity Firth, vice-president for societal impact, equity and engagement at UNSW Sydney, warned that international education cutbacks could undermine the Universities Accord reform agenda embraced by the Labor government in its 14 May budget.

“They need to be a bit careful about going hard on the international students…unless they’re prepared to fully fund the cost of teaching and research,” Professor Firth told the Australian Student Equity Symposium in Sydney. “Maybe they are. Maybe it’s going to be the grand renationalisation of higher ed. But if they’re not, they cannot at the same time be cutting off revenue raising opportunities for universities.”

Professor Firth, a former Labor state education minister, is a member of the implementation advisory committee appointed by the federal government to steer consultations over key accord proposals such as needs-based funding.

She told the symposium – organised by the Curtin University-based Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success (Acses) – that governments had failed to provide the equity funding recommended by the Bradley Review a decade and a half ago. “We don’t want that to happen again,” she said. “It basically can’t happen again if the government wants to…achieve not just its participation rates, but its success rates.

“There is going to have to be a certain holding them accountable to make sure that the money is…there when the rubber hits the road. At the end of the day, we are going to [need] additional investment from government.”

Professor Firth said universities must also avoid the “sectoral interests” that had undermined plans for needs-based funding in Australia’s public schools. “One of the things we’ve got to do as a sector is make sure that needs-based funding in higher education doesn’t enter that same quagmire of budget restraints and complexities and…universities not operating as team players,” she said.

Curtin vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne, who chairs the Acses advisory board, said needs-based funding had enormous potential. “We now have this unique opportunity in history to actually turn things around,” she told the symposium.

“We can either squander it or…do something really good. We really need to figure out what works. We have limited funding available, and we need to help as many students as we possibly can.”

The implementation advisory committee’s first meeting is scheduled for 22 May. Federal education minister Jason Clare said one of its first tasks would be to advise on a means test for the new “Commonwealth Prac Payment” for students on compulsory placements.

Arguably, the students most disadvantaged by practicums are those who need to support themselves through paid work, and cannot do so while on placement. Under a poorly designed means test, their work could render them ineligible for the new payment.

Mr Clare said the Department of Education had done “detailed work” on the payment’s design features. “But they’re not set in stone yet until I’m satisfied that the implementation advisory committee [has] told us that the means testing model is right,” he told the symposium.

Under current plans, the payment will be restricted to teaching, nursing, midwifery and social work students. Mr Clare said that if enrolments and completion rates improved in these disciplines, “the arguments will mount for the same sort of reform in other areas”.

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Reader's comments (1)

I disagree. The government needs to reduce and bring down immigration. It also needs this revolving door of students. For example, PhDs are churn and burn at UQ and other schools. There should be zero visas offered to PhDs for universities that have unconfirmed PhDs and or have pending withdrawals for students. Also, allegations of discrimination and racism should automatically decrease the cap on international students. Universities need to cut staff and professors by 20-30%. There are many low performers that are being subsidized by international revenue. Bringing down the international students to 50 per year for the next 5-10 years will address the education gap, the increase in NDIS, the bloated higher education industry, the immigration and housing problems and the demographics change that is threatening Australia's social cohesion. Also, this over indulgence on international students is forcing a change in foreign and domestic policies which undermines Australia's alliances. For example, South Africans because of their apartheid culture are undermining relationships between first nations communities. The professors and staffers are extremely white and when there are many non-white international students, it creates cultural issues and confusion and gives way to antisemitism and racism. For example, racism and discrimination is common in Australia, so bringing in more Muslim, Indian, or Chinese student puts them at-risk of being abused or bullied or tortured - it is unfair to them and the schools, because these schools cannot accommodate such multicultural environments. There a thousand reasons to eliminate all international students, and only focus on domestic students - keep in mind 10% of Australians have undergraduate degrees. Most of the country does not go to universities. It is a disservice. Also, churn and burn is a major issue for research students. UQ has the worse record of racism and Queensland voted 20% for the voice. The data is all there. The government needs to cut the workforce staff, professors, and the footprint/size of all the universities in particular Go8 and get control over the demographics and the housing crisis and inflation. No more students for universities. The argument that students = revenue means that these are not universities but are immigration platforms where foreigners can buy into the country. India, China, and US should not send any students to Australia. For China, it is a huge threat to see their students become radicalized against the Government of China and be used in a future Bay of Pigs invasion. India should protect its citizens from being racially abused and targeted. US should remember that Australia is a great location for vacation but education is subpar and Americans are generally not welcome in Australia due to political reasons.