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Is Australia still a dream for international students?

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan - posted Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Since the abolition of White Australia Policy in 1973, Anglo Saxon Australia has been transformed into a multicultural society. In the last 40 years, through its generous migration policy, Australia has welcomed people from all over the world.

Located on the Indo-Australian Plate and surrounded by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Australia has played a unique role in bringing East and West together. Today Australia’s annual immigration rate is more than 190,000. One in every four Australians was born overseas. People from more than 200 different ancestries speak about 300 different languages: more than 16 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English at home - including Indigenous languages.

Compared with many European, American and other developed nations living in Australia is still much cheaper. Health, education, food and accommodation are still very economical compared to many western countries. Beautiful beaches, population free environments, amazing landscapes, mountains, deserts and a unique wild life have made Australia a dream place to live for countless people from around the globe.


In the last 40 years, Australia has not only attracted foreign professionals to permanently make Australia their home but also international students who aim for higher education and professional development. World’s best universities, research institutes and the fine Australian education system have made Australia an increasingly popular study destination for international students.

Today, Australia is the third most popular study destination in the English-speaking world. In the last 20 years, the number of annual foreign enrolments has almost doubled and the figures for the last three years show that the rate of annual foreign enrolments has increased by 20 per cent a year.

International students are playing a significant role in the Australian economy. According to sources, international students contribute around $15 billion a year to Australian wealth.

In Australia foreign students add a rich, vibrant layer to Australian diversity. They provide a considerable labour force for local businesses. Some of these students come to Australia with the goal of settling permanently while others return to their homeland after achieving their academic goals. When these students go back to their countries they become ambassadors for Australia. Their stories become the dream for many youngsters and professionals who then want to experience Australian life.

More than 60 per cent of foreign students are enrolled in the Australian vocational education system every year. These foreign students, mostly from Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe, come to Australia to improve their English language skills, to get an occupational or professional qualification, and to work part time - to gain Australian work experience and help meet their educational and living expenditure. They may even earn enough to send back to their relatives overseas. Attending college, studying and doing part time work (mostly labour) is not easy, yet they meet these challenges: they are strong and committed to work hard for a better life.

The majority of international (vocational) students are enrolled in private international colleges. There are more than 100 of these in Australia and the majority of them are in New South Wales and Victoria. Running an international college can be a highly profitable business for the operators. And undoubtedly some of these international colleges are delivering a quality education. Nevertheless, the vocational education system, particularly for international students, has not been well monitored and appraised by the authorities concerned.


Cashing in on the huge flow of overseas students to Australia several international colleges, migration agents and small business employers are exploiting these students. For example, once students arrive in Australia and join their college they find that they are neglected with given little student support. Then there are other non-educational issues they experience, for example, inadequate and substandard housing, workplace exploitation by unscrupulous employers, inappropriate student transport concessions and so on. There is nowhere they can get sufficient help and assistance.

Another, regrettable, fact is that there are numerous international colleges that enrol many foreign students by offering low fee, minimum numbers of classes per week and have no compliance requirements for classroom attendance - resulting in a poor quality education. As per the immigration laws, foreign students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week in Australia. There are instances where foreign students are offered cash jobs for working more than 20 hours a week. Therefore, motivated by the practices of dodgy colleges and small business owners, many overseas students choose these colleges to be enrolled in so they can work long-hours for cash.

Of course, there are audits, performance review procedures, inspections and penalties on non-compliance set by the Vocational Education and Training Accreditation Board (VETAB) and other government departments. Nevertheless, old, routine and traditional procedures need to be re-examined by the authorities concerned in order to fulfil the current demands of all the stakeholders including foreign agents and students.

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About the Author

Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is senior journalist, writer, media analyst and foreign correspondent for foreign media agencies in Australia. His email is

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