LISA MILLAR: Catriona Jackson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, joins us now from Canberra. Good morning, welcome to News Breakfast.
CATRIONA JACKSON: G’day.
LISA MILLAR: I was reading something on The Conversation website a couple of days ago that said we’re very quickly going to get to a million current and former international students living in Australia. Big numbers. Are you surprised that the government has taken the action that it’s taken? You were expecting this?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We are pleased with the strategy overall. It’s a big vision, a 10-year package. We’ve argued strongly that the migration system just wasn’t up to it. It’s sort of built over time. There were some genuine barnacles on it. If you’re an international student coming here for the world-class education that Australia is famous for, there is nothing to fear in this package. It was really good to see, and all through the document as well, Claire O’Neil really reinforced the place that international students have in Australia, both as residents and those who we are lucky enough to retain. But also, those who go back to their home countries and take with them an extraordinary understanding of Australia, a goodwill towards Australia, and that just means that our place in the region is cemented as a mature middle power.
LISA MILLAR: We were speaking to the Federal Education Minister Jason Clare just a little while ago, and he was talking about how unfortunately it’s the rise of the shonks – the organisations that put these courses out there that aren’t really courses. What’s gone on there and how have they managed to get out of control?
CATRIONA JACKSON: I think there are some loopholes in the system that we’re very pleased to see are being shut down. I think the Minister has called it course hopping – a student who enrols in architecture at Melbourne University or a Bachelor of Science at the Australian National University. They come here within a couple of months and then they’re applying for an advanced something in floristry, which is a worthy thing to do, but it’s not what they said they were coming to do when they applied for their student visa. Some of those loopholes are being closed and that’s a good thing. If people want to come here and work, they need to apply for a work visa. If they want to come here to study in our world-class education system, they need to apply for a study visa and then if we’re lucky at the end of that process, some of them might choose to stay here. Only 16 per cent of international students stay in Australia when they finish their degrees. We have some skill shortages among high-skill workers who we could really do with a few more of – those fantastic international graduates. I think there are some incentives in this new scheme to help us retain some of those terrific would-be citizens as well.
LISA MILLAR: Minister Clare O’Neil said this is the first attempt. If it doesn’t work to try and weed out the shonks and only have authentic students coming in, well there could be levies, there could be caps. How would that affect the true university system?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We’ve argued strongly against caps because we think that’s a really blunt policy instrument. What’s being proposed here is much more nuanced. It actually goes to getting rid of those shonks and dodgy operators. It goes to making sure that the integrity of both the visa system but also the integrity of the international student system is really reinforced. It’s a much better way to go and we genuinely hope that has really fruitful outcomes and that we can do it the right way rather than having to whack a cap on, which is a blunt mechanism which might weed out the wrong people, but also the right people.
LISA MILLAR: All right. Catriona Jackson, great to have you on the program as usual.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Thank you, Lisa.