Australia has closed a loophole allowing international students to switch to cheaper providers shortly after arriving in the country in a crackdown on “dodgy” providers.
Ministers also warned they may begin banning “high-risk” institutions from recruiting overseas, while the amount of money students need to be eligible for visas is set to increase.
Institutions are no longer able to create concurrent confirmation of enrolments (CoE), which are intended to allow students to take additional courses alongside their primary study program.
There has been growing concern that “unscrupulous” education providers are misusing this policy to encourage students to switch institutions.
Normally, students would have to wait at least six months to change providers, but this “loophole” allows them to do so much sooner after they arrive in Australia.
There has been a “sharp uptake” in the use of the concurrent function in 2023, with 17,000 concurrent enrolments created in the first half of the year, compared to approximately 10,500 for the same period in 2019 and 2022 combined, according to the government.
The issue has been raised multiple times in ongoing government reviews and parliamentary inquiries, with some accusing onshore education agents and vocational colleges of profiting from course-hopping.
“As students have come back, so have some dodgy and unscrupulous players who are trying to take advantage of them,” said Jason Clare, minister for education.
“This change will work to stop predatory ‘second’ providers from enrolling students before they have studied for the required six months at their first provider.
“This will help ensure the integrity of one of our biggest exports while cracking down on dodgy operators.”
Brendan O’Connor, minister for skills and training, said the changes would “strengthen the integrity” of the VET sector.
“Nine out of 10 future jobs will require a post-secondary qualification and VET is a vital pathway to secure jobs. We are committed to lifting perceptions of VET and this is an important step to do that,” he added.
And providers are likely to face further scrutiny as ministers warned they may start using their powers to issue suspension certificates to prevent “high-risk” institutions from recruiting overseas students – something that has not been done before.
The government is “particularly concerned” about more than 200 providers that currently have visa refusal rates higher than 50%.
Canberra will begin consulting immediately on what would constitute grounds for such a ban, including potentially looking at provider refusal rates and application rates with fraudulent documents.
The amount of money international students must prove they have in order to secure a visa is also set to increase by 17% to AUS $24,505.
The government said this price had not changed since 2019 and the adjustment was necessary “to reflect higher living expenses”.
The move comes amid concerns that some students may struggle to fund their day-to-day costs in Australia, following the government’s decision to reinstate a cap on the amount of hours students are permitted to work.
In a statement, the government said the change will “ensure students coming to Australia to study can afford to support themselves and will not face increased risk of exploitation due to an urgent need for employment”.
“The party is over, the rorts and loopholes that have plagued this system will be shut down”
The government is also considering further measures to “strengthen integrity” in the international education system as part of the migration strategy, which is due to be released later this year.
Earlier this week, the immigration department hinted that it may remove the Genuine Temporary Entrant requirement from visa applications to allow students to allow students to express their desire to migrate permanently.
Clare O’Neil, minister for home affairs, said, “International education is our fourth largest export – it’s essential that we maintain our global reputation for quality education. Our government has no tolerance for people who exploit students.
“Our message is clear – the party is over, the rorts and loopholes that have plagued this system will be shut down.”
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