Education agents will be banned from receiving bonuses for “poaching” students under a federal government crackdown on “rorts and loopholes” in the international education sector.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil announced the reforms in response to a review by former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon into the exploitation of Australia’s visa system.
The changes will aim to ensure that education agents and private providers comply with regulations, and that international students are not taken advantage of.
“The party is over, the rorts and loopholes that have plagued this system will be shut down,” O’Neil said.
Under the reforms, education agents will be banned from receiving a commission for “poaching” international students who are already enrolled in other institutions.
During a recent Parliamentary inquiry, the international student scheme was labelled a “Ponzi scheme” involving agents based overseas being paid bonuses to lure international students with a promise of full-time work.
This change was welcomed by Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson.
“These latest steps the government is taking will help protect students from unscrupulous operators seeking to exploit them for personal gain,” Jackon said.
“Enough is enough.”
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) also backed the crackdown on agents “poaching” students but said it must be implemented properly.
“This initiative is particularly welcome; however, we need to be sure that the arrangements are robust so that unscrupulous agents don’t exploit quality tertiary education providers,” ITECA chief executive Troy Williams said.
“They could bypass the new ban by levying marketing fees or other creative ways of extracting funds from tertiary education providers.”
The federal government will build in risk indicators to the international education system to better ensure that private providers are complying with the relevant regulations.
This will involve greater data sharing, with providers given access to education agent performance data such as student completion rates and visa rejection rates.
“International students are back, but so are the shonks seeking to exploit them and undermine our international education system. That’s why we are acting,” Education Minister Jason Clare said.
“Students from around the world choose to come here first and foremost for the high-quality education we offer.”
These risk indicators will also inform targeted compliance to be undertaken by the education regulators, and increased monitoring of student attendance.
“Where there are shonks or dodgy operators trying to exploit students and make money out of it, it’s important that we crack down on this fast to protect the integrity of the system,” Clare said.
Amendments will also be made to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 to strengthen the fit and proper provider test that is already in place.
These changes will improve the standards providers need to have to gain and hold a registration, and stamp out the cross-ownership of businesses by education providers and agents.
The Labor government has also announced efforts to combat dodgy VET providers and protect vulnerable students through the establishment of a new Integrity Unit with $37.8 million in funding. The unit will have a tech and data-matching capability to help it identify and respond to unethical and potentially illegal activity in the VET sector.
Through this unit, non-genuine providers who may be exploiting international students will be targeted, and a confidential tip-off line will be established.
The federal Opposition criticised the government for taking seven months to respond to the Nixon report.
“Labor is dripping out announcements over the course of a week to cover for their lack of action and to distract from their mishandling of the Voice referendum,” Deputy Leader of the Opposition Sussan Ley said in a statement.