International education; selling residency

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Why isn’t the government supporting the tertiary sector? It is, after all, our fourth biggest export earner. Except it isn’t. Unless you consider residency a ‘product’.

International students come to Australia because university places are one way of purchasing permanent residency.

In order to get permanent residency you have to meet the 2 year ‘Australian Study Requirement’ – 2 years living in Australia. You then choose a job from the ‘skilled occupation list‘. Often this job does not relate to whatever you obtained your Australian qualification in.

You get points for studying in Australia, for sure. But an undergrad degree takes you three or more years and does not get you many points. A post grad, MA or PhD gets you heaps more points (I think about 20).

And, as a bonus, most MA programs are conveniently 2 years, so you meet the residency requirements.

There is, therefore, pressure on unis to ‘develop’ and provide MA courses that are 2 years in length and targeted at international students. Often these are called ‘international student products’

Below is a course I have chosen from a university at random, the University of Wollongong. There are many courses like this, at many Australian universities (but this one was easy to find because it’s got ‘international’ bunged on the end of it. I like their honest approach).

This course, called the Masters of Nursing International, is, like the name suggests, aimed at international students. Domestic students cannot enrol in it (according to the website).

You might assume that graduates of the  ‘Australian Study Requirement’ (two years at an Australian university) would use their qualification towards their ‘Skilled Occupation’ for permanent residency.

For instance, if you obtained a MA of Nursing International, you would apply for work within the Australian healthcare system that recognises your MA of nursing.

You’d be wrong. I enquired.

The MA of Nursing International is not recognised in the Australian healthcare setting. If you want a Masters of Nursing that’s recognised in the Australian healthcare system, you need to do a different course, called….wait for it…..

Masters of Nursing.

To be clear, there are TWO courses. One is a MA of Nursing for international students that happens to be two years long, and another MA of Nursing for domestic students that is a professional qualification. Only one of these is recognised as a Masters of Nursing in Australia and designed to get graduates a relevant job.

So what qualifications are required to enter the MA of Nursing International?

“International students with a recognised Bachelor degree in Nursing can accelerate their career progression by undertaking the Master of Nursing International at UOW.”

So, you need to be a qualified nurse, and have your qualification recognised in Australia. But, if you’re a qualified nurse looking to move to Australia, why wouldn’t you just apply for a skilled worker visa? After all, nursing is ‘on the list’.

Could it be that the University will recognise your Indian nursing degree as a prerequisite for entering the Masters of Nursing International, but the Australian government won’t recognise your Indian nursing degree to work in a hospital?

So, you want to come to Australia. But, you don’t have a relevant qualification, and you can’t speak English.

You need an agent.

All universities have agents. I have known one for a long time.

Agents work in source countries, selling education ‘products’. Can’t speak English at an IELTS score higher than 5? Don’t worry, for this small fee (paid for by the university) we can ‘help’ you to pass the requirements.

Don’t have a nursing degree? Don’t worry, for a small fee (paid for by the university) we can find an equivalent.

So, you’re all set! All you need now is the 60k to pay the fees. And this is where things get pretty ugly.

Let’s be clear, a two year student visa (which can be extended for one extra year) enables a student and their immediate family to move to Australia for two years. Let’s imagine a young woman moves to Australia, with her husband. One or both of them, or their families, have borrowed 60k for the fees.

The couple move to Australia and try to find work to pay off the loan. Officially, full time students cannot work more than a few hours a week, so they’re forced to work illegally for lower wages.

Again, the universities are aware of and support this model, primarily through the lack of the requirement to actually attend university.  Here’s the Masters of Nursing International, again;

“The course is delivered via weekly online learning activities in each subject over the course of each semester. It also features intensive face-to-face workshops, which are delivered on-campus each semester.” 

The courses are almost entirely delivered online. This means that students can come to Australia, be ‘enrolled’ in an online course, work many, many hours washing dishes, make money to send home and turn up to a ‘workshop’ a couple of times a year. Who completes their work? As with all online course, the work is completed by the student or whomever is paid to complete it. Not surprisingly, for this course there’s no ‘clinical placement’ component. 

It’s not hard to see how women, especially, are placed in an extremely vulnerable position. There’s literally no way out of this scenario. They can’t just ‘go home’ – their family has taken on an enormous debt to pay for the ‘education’. Tragically, this has predictable results, where women are often subjected to abuse or even murder.

The MA of nursing, by the way, looks great on paper – really thorough. And students DO complete a course of study. But it’s pretty basic.

 The real aim of the course is to gain points for a residency application.

Now, let’s be clear about a couple of things. There are international students in Australia who’re here for the education. These are usually STEM students but there are others. However, some at universities up to 40% of their student their student body is comprised of international students. Are they all here because of the ‘prestige education?’

So why does this system exist?

It exists because Australia’s growth is predicated on immigration. This can be easily seen by comparing the GDP to GDP per capita figures. But why not just open the doors?

Well, Australia wants to extract as much money out of incoming immigrants as possible and limit supply. Yes these people are young and healthy, and they smooth out our ageing demographic. But if we can charge them for residency, why not?

Furthermore, the universities themselves have increasingly supplemented their shrinking government revenue with international students’ fees. International students basically pay for domestic students to attend university. Importantly, they pay for an awful lot of young Australians to get a high school education

 Universities are increasing the number of ‘bums on seats’. This is also why the level of education has declined so dramatically in general arts courses – it’s in the universities’ interests. As the value of an undergraduate degree has declined, the only way to distinguish oneself as having a decent education is to get a post grad degree – more bums, more seats.

So, why isn’t the government bailing out universities? Because universities have tipped the balance.

The essential education ‘bit’ will roll on – domestic students will still enrol for engineering, law, science and medical degrees. The rest of it (what Americans might call, liberal arts) is paid for by international students. And they’re not coming.

In other words, the government has currently embargoed the sale of Australian permanent residency and its lack of support for the tertiary sector lays bare the truth of this arrangement.

This is not one of those, ‘in my day, university standards were much higher and young people today should all be fed through the woodchipper’ etc.,. posts. Universities provide excellent teaching and excellent learning opportunities. Staff work exceptionally hard. It’s also in no way suggesting that the non professional faculties (history etc.,.) are pointless. In fact, that’s the second reason they’re left out of funding arrangements – no government wants its citizens to have an excellent critical understanding of how power operates.

That said, we cannot overlook the simple join-the-dots above. Universities are unwillingly complicit in an economic arrangement that creates vulnerable situations, driven by economic factors, and tied into Australia’s economic growth.

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