Students: visas and regulations

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For Indian students choosing to study and live in Australia, the choice is no longer an attractive option

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Over the last six years there has been a drastic decline in the number of Indian students coming to Australia for further studies, which has slowly started to impact the international education sector in the nation. An analysis by the immigration department shows the number of Indians studying in Australia dropped by 71% from 2007/08 to 2011/12.

According to international student data at year-to-date (YTD) May 2013, the number of Indian student enrolments for all sectors was 33,484 compared to 40,601 at the same time in 2012. This reflects an overall drop of 17.5% in 2013, in comparison to 2012 in the number of Indian students coming Australia.

Interestingly, the most popular field of education for Indian students continues to be management and commerce across Vocational Educational Training (13,394) and Higher Education (3,790) sectors.

So what are the reasons for this sharp fall in numbers? After speaking with Indian students and professionals, it is obvious that the tightening of new student visa regulations, the sluggish job market, changes in the general skilled migration rules leading to permanent residency, coupled with the high value of the Australian dollar has been a big dampener on many Indian students achieving the big Australian dream.

27-year-old Kirti Sharma who is a permanent resident feels the primary reason for the drop is the new stringent rules to get permanent residency in Australia.

“The majority of students who come to Australia come with the purpose of settling down here once they have finished their studies. You can’t get permanent residency anymore for studying cookery or hairdressing; accounting probably still exists in the list of courses which will give you a residency, but the IELTS (English test) score requirement is 8 which is a very high score for someone to achieve if English is not their first language,” said Sharma.

“Let’s not forget the strong Australian dollar which could also be a factor for lots of students, because it makes the course more expensive for students compared to say five years ago. In Indian rupees the course which I studied about six years ago will now cost you about 30-35% more because of the strong Australian dollar,” added Sharma.

Another daunting factor dissuading Indian students from selecting Australia as their first preference for higher studies is the lack of job opportunities available for them here after completing their degree.

“Indian students may not want to invest in an Australian university because getting a degree here does not necessarily convert into getting a job when one is on a student visa,” said Mandeep Singh, an MBA student from University of Technology Sydney. “Australian employers prefer local experience instead of relying on Indian work experience. This is where I fail to understand that even in an era of globalisation, a developed country like Australia is still way behind in infusing a multicultural talented workforce into the economy”.

Unfortunately for Singh and many like him, their fate solely lies on the visa they currently hold. “I will be graduating with a Master’s degree this year and wish to apply for graduate roles in big companies, but a temporary work visa doesn’t allow me to sit for interviews in such companies,” said Singh. “However, I am definitely eligible to apply in the same companies back in India where my degree is of utmost value”.

Danish Ali, another MBA student echoes the same feeling, “I have been living in Australia for the past five and half years. Despite my education here, I’m still not being considered for permanent residency; it is most unfortunate and frustrating for me”.

Alison Jenkins, Deputy Director, UNSW International reaffirms that permanent residency requirements is one of the reasons for the drastic drop in the number of student enrolments since 2008.

“The VET sector has been impacted the most due to changes in the PR requirements,” stated Jenkins. “The drop in numbers was also due to safety concerns after the highly publicised student attacks in Melbourne and the high Australian dollar”.

“Approximately 200 students have enrolled mostly in postgraduate programs at UNSW last year. India constitutes about 5% of our incoming international students. Approximately 50% are from South East Asia and the remaining from the rest of the world,” she added.

With tuition fee and the cost of living in Australia becoming more unaffordable, the demand for scholarships from India is on the rise. “There is always a demand for scholarships but unfortunately we have been unable to provide additional scholarships due to the higher education budget cuts this year,” said Jenkins.

Radhika Budhwar was among the four Indians invited from India to be part of a show called Dumb, Drunk and Racist back in 2012. The initiative behind this series was to project the true picture of Australia to a number of disillusioned Indians, who felt that this was not the safest country for their denizens. After the furore of negative media reports of crimes and robberies against Indians in Australia in 2008-09 that were described as racially motivated crimes, the issue of safety became a global concern. Radhika, an education advisor, did have a negative image about Australia and had stopped encouraging students to enrol for higher education in 2009; however her perception of Australia changed for the better after her visit.

“I wouldn’t label Australia as racist, but a few people are still a bit ignorant,” she said. “Australia is a fortunate country. Indian students have once again started to apply to Australian universities and the numbers have started to pick up again”.

In fact, an India-Australia 2013 Poll, conducted by the Think Tank – Lowy Institute for International Policy, disclosed some surprising results (previously published in Indian Link). To summarise, it revealed that Indian students had broadly positive views towards Australia, but still have lingering concerns about student safety. The survey highlighted that the controversies over the safety of Indian students a few years ago have not damaged the overall perceptions of Indians, and Australia is still considered as a place to gain an education. According to the survey, Australia ranks only second after the United States as a good place to be educated, according to 75% of Indians; and rates more highly than Canada, Singapore, Britain and Germany. Among its findings, 62% of Indians think Australia remains a dangerous place for Indian students, although 53% say it is safer than it was a few years ago, and 64% say any country can be dangerous for Indian students if they are not careful.

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