Undeterred by the sporadic incidents of violence and egged on by peer pressure, Indian students continue to fly to Australia, in smaller numbers though.
Boasting world-class universities and colleges laced with state-of-the-art infrastructure, Australia is recovering from recent setbacks. This was made possible by some concrete measures initiated by the Australian government following the world-wide outcry against the 'racism' that was thought to be behind the attacks on Indians there.
But there is another reason for the concern regarding study visas to Australia. The country's immigration minister Chris Evans announced a the new skilled occupation list dropping occupations like hairdressing and cookery in favour of doctors, nurses and engineers to crackdown on people seeking permanent residency through low-value education courses.
Now as the dust settles down on the recent changes, RMS Atwal spoke to Kelly Raj, counsellor-education at the Australian High Commission, New Delhi, who threw light on the various aspects of Australian education following the announcement of stricter student visa rules.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Do you think the recent 'damage control' exercise by the Australian government has been effective in restoring the image of Australia among Indian students?
I can only say that measures to better protect the rights and well-being of Indian students in Australia have already been introduced by the Australian government which include a nationwide audit of education providers and a requirement for them to re-register their courses under tighter new criteria this year. In addition, the Australian police commissioners have agreed to share initiatives designed to ensure student safety and improve the dissemination of information to stakeholders.
The Council of Australian Governments, which comprises the heads of government of the national, state and territory governments, has also agreed to a suite of practical initiatives designed to better ensure a positive, safe and rewarding study experience for international students. These initiatives form part of the International Students Strategy for Australia and complement the findings of the recent Baird Review to ensure Australia remains a world-leader in the international education sector.
But students in the region still seem apprehensive about pursuing their studies Down Under?
Our government takes the safety and well-being of Indians in Australia very seriously. Authorities at all levels of government in the country have resolved not to tolerate victimisation and violence against international students. Strengthened police operations have improved physical security and arrests have been made.
Tighter regulation has also improved the quality of education, while protecting students affected by the closure of some education providers. Initiatives are also in place to better support international students and foster their inclusion in local communities.
Are there chances of the stringent student visa rules proving counter-productive for overseas students?
The paramount objective of the student visa programme is to assist with maintaining Australia's reputation for quality international education by facilitating the access of genuine students to our country. When assessing the genuineness, a number of factors are considered, including the applicant's financial capacity, English proficiency, potential to breach visa conditions and other relevant matters.
These requirements were introduced on the basis of past experience that indicated such measures resulted in a higher proportion of students complying with visa conditions. Rather than deter genuine students, the student visa requirements are necessary to ensure the integrity of Australia's visa programme and to support the long-term sustainability and quality of Australian international education.
They also help protect the welfare of students and their families, and help students to have a positive experience living and studying in Australia.
How effective has the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) been in reining in bogus education agents?
The AAERI was formed to assure the integrity of agents recruiting students on behalf of Australian institutions. One of the strengths of AAERI is that all members agree to abide by a code of ethical practice and that code of ethics is based on the Australian government's Education Services for Overseas Students Act.
So AAERI's Code of Ethical practice ensures that members provide accurate and realistic counselling to Indian students wanting to study in Australia.
Do you think Australia will bounce back before this year's September intake?
I understand numbers of enrolments have continued to grow since the beginning of this year with an average growth of almost 9 per cent each calendar month. I think the recent Joint Ministerial Statement between India's Ministry for Human Resource Development and Australia's Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations will further strengthen what is already a solid partnership between Australia and India, and expand avenues to achieve greater cooperation between the two nations in the education sector.
Countries like New Zealand have gained a large number of Indian students. Will the Australian government welcome such students' transfer to its own (Australian) universities and colleges?
Despite major events such as the global financial crisis, Indian students' enrolments in Australia only reduced by 1.9 per cent. Australia develops and maintains bilateral education and training relationships throughout Europe, the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Australia and New Zealand's geographical proximity, historical, social and cultural affinities extend to the education sector. Educational bilateral activities include more than 30 formal agreements between universities in Australia and New Zealand and 23 offshore programmes.
Permanent residency and study abroad is considered to be a dangerous mix. How does the Australian government see it under the present scenario?
Student visas entitle people to come to Australia on a temporary basis for a specified period to undertake study at an Australian educational institution. While many overseas students make a decision to apply for permanent residence upon
completing their studies, this is an entirely separate process and there is no guarantee that, purely on the basis of having held a student visa, a person will meet the requirements to be granted permanent residence.
Students should not make educational choices solely on the basis of hoping to achieve a particular migration outcome, as the general skilled migration programme will continue to change and adapt to Australia's economic needs. For more information students can visit the following links: www.studyinaustralia.gov.au, www.australiaawards.gov.au, www.aei.gov.au.(RMS Atwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)