Sunday, June 16, 2024

International student U-turn ‘risks 4,500 university jobs’

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The Australian government’s “short-sighted and politically expedient” crackdown on overseas students could claim 4,500 jobs in universities and tens of thousands more in hospitality and retail, a former Labor Party policy adviser has warned.

Universities Australia chief executive Luke Sheehy told a Queensland conference that Australia was risking economic mayhem through a “bipartisan about-turn” on international education.

Mr Sheehy said universities expected visa processing changes to cost them A$500 million (£261 million) this year alone. And a proposed “cap by stealth” on international students could jeopardise the entire A$48 billion international education industry.

This could endanger some 250,000 jobs that relied on revenue from foreign students and their families, he said, including more than two-thirds of workers in international tourism, while threatening an income stream that could cover the salaries of 545,000 nurses.

“Both the government and the opposition are openly targeting international students in their bid to slash migration,” Mr Sheehy said in a speech to the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (UTECA) higher education symposium at Surfers Paradise. “Little thought is given to the deeper consequences of policies driven by polling.

“With budgetary pressures mounting, shouldn’t we be aiming to grow industries that sustain our economy rather than adding more strain? Is now really the time to water down a major export industry?”

Mr Sheehy worked as an adviser to former Labor tertiary education minister Chris Evans and shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek. He said both sides of Australian politics had barracked for a post-pandemic influx of international students before charging into an “election battle” over migration.

He said the former Liberal-National coalition government had advocated measures to “help support the rapid return of international students”, saying it wanted the foreign student “market” to “flourish again”. The current Labor government had criticised its predecessor “for telling international students to go home during the pandemic” and lauded its own efforts in “breaking the back of the visa backlog, only to rip the handbrake again”.

Such backflips contradicted the “bipartisan support and encouragement” both sides had given to international education, partly to cover shortfalls in funding for university infrastructure and research, he said.

“Over the last number of decades, we’ve been encouraged to diversify the income we get, and that includes international education,” Mr Sheehy told Sky News.

He said it was illogical to blame international students for Australia’s accommodation squeeze, because rents had skyrocketed and housing concerns had escalated during a Covid-induced slump in student numbers.

Campus resource collection: Create welcoming classrooms for international students

Meanwhile, a University of Technology Sydney report has hosed down concerns that Chinese house buyers – including students and their parents – are forcing up real estate prices and choking rental availability. 

The report by James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), says foreigners must pay application fees of up to A$42,300 for permission to buy residential properties in Australia. And they face double that amount in “vacancy” fees if their properties are unoccupied for more than six months a year.

The report says Chinese nationals were involved in about A$3 billion of the A$613 billion in Australian real estate deals last year. And many would have sold up again.

“Foreign buyers who are temporary residents, such as international students, can only purchase an established dwelling for the purposes of living in while in Australia,” the report says. “The property must be sold when they are no longer residents.”

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