Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Questions without Notice
International Student Visas
My question is to Senator Lundy representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. On 30 June 2011 the Knight review into the student visa framework handed down 41 recommendations to improve Australia's student visa system. In September 2011, as part of its response to these recommendations, the government announced that it would request DIAC to undertake a review of the student visa assessment level framework, with a discussion paper released in March 2012. To date, education and training providers are still waiting to hear the outcome of this review, even though it was supposed to be released in November last year, and the uncertainty, particularly amongst South Australian providers, is damaging to the sector. Can the minister provide a date for this long awaited announcement?
The international education sector is, of course, one of Australia's largest export industries and is very important to Australia in that regard. It is also an increasingly competitive area of our export sector and plays an important role in supporting employment across a whole range of sectors and in adding high-value skills.
Back in December of 2010 the Australian government appointed Michael Knight AO to conduct the first strategic review of the student visa program to enhance the quality of and integrity and competitiveness of our program. He made 41 recommendations in the review and on 22 September 2011 the government announced its response to the strategic review of the student visa program conducted by Michael Knight.
Recommendation 32 of that report is that the department undertake a review of the student visa assessment level framework. This review was undertaken in 2012, as required, and the government has been considering its response. When the government announced the review it made clear the implementation of the agreed recommendations would occur in 2013. It is expected that the government will release the review's report shortly and its response to these recommendations.
In considering this issue, the government has been very mindful of the need to ensure the integrity of the migration system as it relates to our international education sector as well as supporting the international education sector because of its growing competitiveness in the global environment and, as I said at the start of my response to this question, its increasing importance to Australia and our relationships and the sustainment of our export earnings in the education sector.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Firstly, could the minister define 'shortly'? Education and training providers are waiting to know if they will have access to the proposed new streamlined arrangements for visa applications. It is feared that only large providers will have access to these arrangements, seriously disadvantaging smaller providers, including many quality providers in South Australia. Can the minister indicate whether this has been taken into account when shaping the new framework?
No, I cannot do any better than 'shortly', Senator Xenophon, but I think you understand what that means. The government has not made any announcements on its response to the review, including whether the extension and streamlining arrangements will be a part of this. If streamlined visa processing is part of the government's response it is clear that the selection of low-risk education providers invited to participate will be key to the success of the arrangements. Of course, the government recognises the importance of international education to the sector and the economy more broadly. That is why we have made significant reforms to student visas to support the continued sustainable growth of this sector. We also recognise any impact that the changes to visa processing could make to individual education providers. That is why the former minister consulted with key stakeholders on a potential model last year and that is why we are ensuring the government response is carefully calibrated to ensure the student visa program can continue to facilitate the growth of the international education system. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a second supplementary question. Data show that overseas student numbers have dropped in the last three years, with revenue in South Australia, for instance, dropping from $1.03 billion in 2010 to $884 million in 2011. The concern in the sector in South Australia has been that, if this trend continues, it could put hundreds of jobs at risk. Can the minister provide any information on how this drop has been addressed during the review process?
Student numbers have declined as a result of a range of factors. The Gillard Labor government has taken substantial steps, especially through the process of the Knight review, to assist the growth of the sector, and we would hope that the outcomes of the risk review contribute to that objective. Reforms to Australia's permanent migration program have substantially changed the incentives for these types of prospective students. Declines in numbers have also occurred due to a range of other factors including the safety concerns of Indian students and the appreciating Australian dollar—a significant factor in the increased competitiveness from other countries. I think it is fair to say that other countries have awakened to the opportunities that exist in the international education sector, so the degree of competitiveness across a whole range of competing nations has lifted substantially.