Claire Field: Navigating Australia’s educational landscape post-migration changes

Claire Field, managing director of Claire Field & Associates, provides valuable insights into the transformative effects of Australia’s recent migration strategy reforms on the international education sector.

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As Australia takes a bold step to revamp its Migration Strategy, a direct commitment to strengthen the integrity of international education emerges. Addressing perceived shortcomings in the existing system, the reforms signal a focused approach to rebuilding the nation through education.

While the government refrained from imposing a cap on international student numbers, it introduced measures likely to reduce figures. These include heightened scrutiny for non-genuine students seeking study and work visas and a 17 percent increase in the financial requirement for visa applicants to AU$24,505.

Additional changes, such as the reduction of some post-study work rights, are anticipated to result in fewer international students staying in the country for extended periods.

The reform also involves implementing measures such as increased English language requirements, additional scrutiny for high-risk student applications, and crackdowns on unscrupulous education providers.

Claire Field, managing director of Claire Field & Associates, in an interview with MSM reporter, provides valuable insights into the transformative effects of Australia’s recent migration strategy reforms on the international education sector.

Claire Field & Associates provides direct advice and strategic support to key Australian and international education providers and stakeholders within the tertiary education sector. The firm also assists education entities in successfully navigating changes in policy, funding, and regulatory settings across VET, international education, higher education, and the impact of EdTech.

Field discussed the anticipated effects on university and VET students, post-study work rights, and the demographic composition of incoming international students.

She also touched on the introduction of the “Skills in Demand” visa and its potential to reshape opportunities for university students seeking permanent residency, providing a direct overview of the significant changes in Australia’s migration strategy and their global implications on student mobility.

How will the recent migration strategy reforms impact the attractiveness of Australia as a destination for international students, considering increased financial requirements and changes to post-study work rights?

There have been a raft of changes announced by the Australian government since August which, in combination with the newly released Migration Strategy, will change Australia’s international education sector.

Collectively, they will probably have minimal impact on university students but we will inevitably see fewer international VET students in Australia in the future. I don’t think the reduction in post-study work rights is a huge issue. The changes take Australia back to our pre-COVID settings and follow similar steps in the UK and Canada.

The new “Skills in Demand” visa the government is introducing with the Migration Strategy will in fact make it easier for some university students to become permanent residents in Australia after their studies.

In committing to rebuilding Australia’s migration system for nation-building, how might the new strategy shape the demographic composition of incoming international students and its impact on the Australian workforce?

The Australian government (and community) want our international education sector to be focused on delivering quality education which sets students up for great careers either in their home countries or in Australia.

If the new Genuine Student test and the new “Skills in Demand” visa works as intended then international graduates studying courses where Australia has persistent skill shortages will find it easier once they graduate to stay in Australia and settle – if they want to. And if they don’t or their courses are less relevant to the Australian economy then they can go onto good jobs at home or elsewhere either after they finish their studies or after they finish their post-study work period in Australia.

With the introduction of a Genuine Student Test to discourage non-genuine students, how might this affect the application process for international students, and what considerations should prospective students be aware of?

I think the Genuine Student test will largely only impact the VET sector (assuming the Department of Home Affairs implements it as intended) – it means that when students apply for a visa, the course they want to enroll in will be considered in terms of their career prospects and future earnings.

So, while an Australian degree gives international students a wage premium once they graduate – because it leads them into well paid careers (and hence I think most university students will pass the Genuine Student test) – the same wage premium is not always achieved by VET graduates.

Often VET qualifications lead to well paid jobs in Australia but not in a number of other countries in the world where occupations requiring VET qualifications are not very well paid.

So, the Department of Home Affairs will be weighing up why a student wants to pay large amounts of money to study and live in Australia to earn a VET qualification that probably won’t lead them to a very well paid job in their home country – and they are therefore likely to reject their application.

If the course the student wishes to study relates to an occupation in shortage in Australia, there will be an argument to be made that their course choice is a valid one but I think this is likely to be a contested, difficult decision for officials to make.

The government may end up only offering these opportunities to low-risk trusted VET providers, but we haven’t yet seen the full details on the factors government officials will take into account in the new Genuine Student test.

Regarding issues in the VET sector and potential exploitation, how might increased scrutiny of VET providers and agents impact the overall integrity of Australia’s international education sector?

The recent review by former Victorian Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, highlighted serious problems in the private international VET sector and government agencies have subsequently been investigating providers linked to migration fraud.

More funding has been provided to the VET regulator and now the Department of Home Affairs to improve their scrutiny of providers and student visa applications. Changes to prevent education providers owning education agencies are also planned.

Collectively, these measures should remove some of the bad operators from the sector and allow students and their families greater confidence in the integrity of the Australian VET sector.

Given the noted reduction in post-study work rights, especially for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, how do you foresee these changes influencing the career outcomes of international students and their likelihood of obtaining permanent residency?

The reason the government is making the change is because, sadly, the current post-study work rights arrangements are not working for many students, and about half of all international graduates end up working in Australia in very low-paid jobs after they graduate, not related to their studies.

The change the government is making – which should make it easier for graduates with the skills Australia needs to move from their post-study work visa onto a Skills in Demand visa and then permanent residency – is welcomed.

With an increase in English-language score requirements for visas in early 2024, how might this impact international students, especially those entering ELICOS, foundation, or pathway programs?

There’s no change to the English language requirements for foundation and pathways programs or for students entering ELICOS programs unless the English language program is packaged as part of a student visa application for a degree, diploma or certificate course.

English language requirements will rise for a student visa (to IELTS 6.0 or equivalent) and for students applying to do an ELICOS program before their main course (IELTS 5.0). Students doing pathways and foundation programs will still need an IELTS 5.5.

These may change the study decisions of some students who will look to study elsewhere instead of Australia but I tend to think the impact will be relatively modest. The other changes being introduced are likely to have a bigger impact.

The government emphasizes preserving the “social license” for Australia’s international education system; how critical is public confidence, and what steps can institutions take to ensure ongoing prosperity in the sector?

Public confidence is significant and the international education sector and our universities in particular have not done as well as they could in explaining the importance of international education to Australia, to Australian students who learn so much from studying alongside students from around the world, and to international students to learn more about life in Australia and to build relationships with us that will shape their careers.

Universities need to think more carefully about how they welcome international students to their campuses and how they integrate them into their courses.

Having some courses and even campuses in some of our capital cities dominated by international students (sometimes from just one country) makes both local and international students uncomfortable. The public discourse focused on international student fees, revenues and taxes is similarly short sighted and needs to be rethought.

Considering simultaneous reforms in Canada and the UK, what common trends do you observe in the approaches of these countries toward international education, and how might these changes shape global student mobility in the coming years?

The changes being made in the UK and Canada are why I tend to think the impact on the Australian university sector, of our government’s reforms, will be relatively modest.

All three countries are trying to balance domestic cost of living pressures including high housing costs, with post-COVID growth in international student numbers which wasn’t always linked to quality education delivery.

While I expect some tapering off/decline in international student numbers in all three countries in the near future (and in the US if Trump wins the 2024 election) – on balance I don’t expect Australia, Canada or the UK want to seriously shift student sentiment away from their country as an attractive destination.

Globally we know that other countries are aware of the many benefits of educating international students and at the same time there’s been growth in the number of students wanting to study overseas, there’s been an increase in the destinations available to them. These changes in the UK, Canada and Australia should be seen against that broader shift in global student mobility.

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos

Jaleen Ramos has been a professional journalist for five years now. She has contributed and covered stories for premier Philippine dailies and publications, and has traveled to different parts of the country to capture and tell the most significant stories happening.

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