Submission to Australia's International Education and Skills Strategic Framework

02 July 2024

The international student sector is our fourth largest export industry, worth $48 billion in 2023. It provides considerable income for businesses, delivers higher revenues to governments, supports universities to offer high-quality education for domestic students, is critical to maintaining our research capacity, and is a major channel for soft diplomacy, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

The BCA is broadly supportive of the key themes in the Framework. However, the international student enrolment limits proposed via amendments to the Education Services For Overseas Students Amendment (Quality and Integrity) Bill 2024 (the Bill) will undermine these policy objectives, risk politicisation and have unintended consequences that could derail the reform principles of the Australian Universities Accord.

Through provisions to build additional housing for international students, the Framework links this cohort to Australia’s current housing and infrastructure pressures. But the housing crisis has not been caused by international students. Poor regulation, failed planning, skills shortages in construction and high building costs have reduced new housing on the market. No new houses mean higher prices and fierce competition for quality accommodation. These are factors beyond the control of the universities, as evidenced by their attempts to build accommodation being blocked by local councils.

If we are to solve the housing crisis, we need to get to the core of the problem. Short term policy responses such as a cap on international student numbers will not fix the issue, will detract from real solutions and have negative consequences for the broader economy.

Australia is currently experiencing some of the worst skill shortages in its history. One in three occupations had worker shortages in 2023. New and expanding sectors such as the net zero transition, defence, including for AUKUS, construction and manufacturing, and the growing need for care and digital skills have led to labour pressures across the economy. The university and Vocational Education and Training (VET) sectors are critical to ensuring Australia can reduce these gaps and should be supported to provide quality education to all.

International student revenue is essential for research efforts and the teaching of domestic students. A blunt cap on international student numbers will place these activities at risk. Unless significant additional Government funding is planned for the sector, a cap will also limit universities’ ability to meet the Government’s ambitious equity and attainment targets, as set out in the Australian Universities Accord.

The Government has undertaken a major review on migration that is now being implemented. This revised and more targeted strategy is the right approach to addressing concerns regarding Australia’s migration intake.

The BCA recommends the Government reconsider managing growth in international education. Ensuring integrity and diversity of the sector has merit and should be vigorously pursued. This will remove unscrupulous providers and poor-performing students and improve the overall quality of international education – effectively shrinking the sector without damaging the economic benefits it brings to the country.

Home Affairs’ focused action in this area is underway as part of the Migration Strategy and international student numbers have already dropped 36 per cent from this time last year.

Read our full submission here


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