Universities Australia urges gov’t to implement fee-free university program

The initiative mirrors the successful fee-free TAFE program, aiming to address the decline in higher education enrollments amid the growing demand for skilled workers.

Share the post

Universities Australia is calling on the Albanese government to allocate $493 million for fee-free university places targeted at disadvantaged students in critical skill areas in a bid to bolster enrollments and stimulate economic growth.

Challenges in higher education enrollment

 The initiative mirrors the successful fee-free TAFE program, aiming to address the decline in higher education enrollments amid the growing demand for skilled workers, according to a press release from Universities Australia.

Per recent statistics, higher education enrollments have plummeted by five percent from 2021 to 2022, despite Australia’s escalating need for university-educated professionals. 

In response, Renee Hindmarsh, acting chief executive of Universities Australia, stressed the urgency of prioritizing education to meet future skills challenges and sustain economic prosperity.

Projections suggested that by 2050, the university system will need to accommodate 1.8 million Commonwealth-supported students, doubling the current figure, to satisfy Australia’s evolving workforce demands. 

Notably, half of all new jobs are projected to require a university degree, while nine out of 10 will necessitate a post-school qualification.

Economic impact of university-educated workers

Hindmarsh underscored the vital role of university-educated workers in driving economic growth, estimating that they contribute $185 billion to the economy and elevate the standard of living for all Australians. 

She noted the necessity of attracting more individuals, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue higher education to meet the nation’s future needs.

To this end, Universities Australia’s proposal seeks government support for up to 20,000 fee-free university places aimed at addressing critical skill shortages.

Pre-budget submission for 2024-25

Additionally, in their pre-budget submission for 2024-25, Universities Australia proposes gradually increasing the number of Commonwealth-supported university places to meet future skills demands, alongside advocating for financial assistance to students for mandatory placements and bolstered support for PhD candidates. 

They also called for amplified funding for research and development to tackle national priorities and maintain Australia’s distinguished research reputation.

Decline in int’l student visas

Australia’s net overseas migration, particularly concerning international student visas, has experienced a notable downturn, as revealed by data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

The decline surpasses 90,000 student approvals for the current financial year, attributed mainly to the government’s stricter visa approval processes aimed at addressing integrity concerns like fraudulent documents and non-genuine claims.

Statistics from the Department of Home Affairs indicate a decrease in international student visas granted to 139,132 in the first half of the financial year, with approximately 20 percent of applications facing rejection. 

Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, linked this decline to the government’s efforts to tighten visa approvals, particularly for applicants primarily seeking work rights rather than genuine study purposes.

In total, 195,934 student visas were approved, including those for non-residents already in Australia, marking a drop from the record 577,295 visas granted in the previous financial year. 

The decline is further exemplified by the reduction in approval rates, with only 81 percent of student visa requests being accepted in the last six months, down from 86 percent in 2022-23, 91.5 percent in 2021-22, and 89.9 percent in the pre-COVID year of 2018-19.

As of December 2022, Australia hosts a significant population of international students, totaling 619,371, with the majority, 361,247, enrolled solely in higher education.

New South Wales stands as the region with the highest concentration of international students at 244,193, predominantly hailing from China, which contributes 156,217 students. RMIT University attracts the most foreign students, with 26,590 enrolled. 

Undergraduate programs are the most popular among international students, with 213,748 enrolled. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the majority of international students enrolled in 2021, accounting for 65 percent, remained in Australia. As of Dec. 1, 2022, 346,164 international students continue to reside in Australia.

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.

banner place

What to read next...
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.

Sign Up for Weekly Top 12 News

Expert picks in the intl ed world, in your inbox.

Get the Top 12 trending international education news stories from around the world, sourced from authoritative media outlets and publications worldwide. 

This expertly curated newsletter aims to support the global knowledge base of international education stakeholders – higher education institutions, recruitment partners, government officials, service providers, and students. 

The newsletter is delivered to subscribers’ inbox every Wednesday evening at 10:30 PM PT / 1:39 AM ET. 

We respect and protect your privacy. If you do not wish to receive future issues of the MSM Reporter, you may unsubscribe at any time.
Read our privacy policy