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Within the Labor Party’s drastic limit on foreign students

The bill will be introduced in federal parliament this week and will allow Education Minister Jason Clare to establish the admission of foreign students for each university, an extraordinary power that ends decades of unbridled growth.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil will join Clare at a meeting on Monday morning with the Council for International Education, along with Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles.

Education Minister Jason Clare.

Education Minister Jason Clare.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Council convener Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the Australian International Education Association, said federal intervention carried a significant risk of policy overreach.

“Every week we see a new policy announcement in this beleaguered $48 billion industry,” he said Sunday.

Charging

“The sector is crying out for greater transparency and certainty to stop the global message that Australia doesn’t want international students.”

However, there are major concerns within the government that universities have enjoyed increasing income from overseas students without any responsibility for the wider impact on migration and population.

The government believes the changes will ensure the system serves the national interest rather than being driven by the financial interest of universities.

The total foreign student population in Australia was 634,000 in September 2019. That figure plummeted to 318,000 in the depths of the pandemic two years later, government figures show, but it has recovered strongly and has also has fueled community concerns about housing shortages and urban congestion. .

The total stock grew from 583,000 in March last year to 671,000 in March this year, a growth rate of 15 percent. Some in government believe growth should be reduced to 5 per cent a year, subject to consultation with university bosses and others across the sector.

Slower growth in the total student population allows the government to reduce annual migration because the rate of entry, rather than the total stock, is crucial for net overseas migration.

University bosses have rejected Labor’s agenda by pointing to National Australia Bank estimates that international student spending accounted for 0.8 percentage points of the 1.5 per cent increase in gross domestic product last year.

“Our member universities provide or facilitate access to accommodation serving more than 83,000 students and we have a substantial plan to provide additional provision over the next decade,” Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said.

“The framework consultation process will be extremely important as we seek to achieve the right balance of outcomes for the nation and our international students.”

Charging

The government on Saturday published a draft framework to begin consultations with the sector, after announcing the plan at 9am that morning.

Universities Australia chief Luke Sheehy emphasized the need to contribute to the final plan and said the sector looked forward to working with the government to “co-design” policy settings.

The draft framework says: “The overwhelming majority of onshore international students study in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (approximately 70 per cent of 2023 enrolments). “There is work to do to alleviate current pressures on accommodation, transport and other infrastructure.”

It also says enrollments did not reflect the skills shortage in Australia because 35 per cent of international students were in business studies and management and only 8.7 per cent were in health and education.

“More can be done to encourage study in areas where there are persistent and critical skills shortages, such as teaching and nursing,” he says.

The student cap is central to the broader immigration agenda after the government claimed to have achieved early success by reducing overseas student visa grants to 14,000 in April, in line with the pre-pandemic rate and well above below 22,000 in the same month last year.

The budget will forecast a cut in net overseas migration from 528,000 last year to 395,000 this year and 260,000 next, in an ambitious plan to cut intakes by half.

The goal beyond those years is to return intake to around 235,000 each year, in line with the trend before the pandemic.

International students are expected to account for 50 percent of net overseas migration, the largest group, while permanent migrants account for 25 percent, temporary skilled workers 5 percent, and working holiday tourists account for 15 percent.

The government intends to amend the Educational Services for Foreign Students Act to give the Minister of Education the power to set limits on enrollments at each education provider, including within specific courses or placements.

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