In January 2023 the Australian government commissioned former Victorian Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon AO APM, to undertake a Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System – in response to media reports by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of abuses of the migration system.
The report identifies the greatest problems in the international education sector are associated with private VET providers offering lower level qualifications. Nixon makes the following recommendations relevant to international education:
- Consider further extension of anti-money laundering reforms to include registered migration agents, education agents, and privately owned VET providers.
- Consideration be given to regulating onshore and offshore education agents used by Australia education providers.
- Conduct a targeted compliance operation for three months, focussed on assessing private VET providers (it is understood this recommendation has been actioned).
- Conduct a targeted data matching activity to compare information holdings across Commonwealth agencies for private VET providers.
- Should the implementation of the above recommendations expose that exploitation of the system by private VET providers is significant, Australia’s student visa policy should be reviewed, with a view to removing CRICOS eligibility for low level private VET and non-award courses.
- Education regulators (ie ASQA and TEQSA) to develop a broader set of systemic risk indicators for CRICOS-registered education providers.
- Education providers’ compliance with reporting non-attendance by international students through PRISMS should be closely monitored.
- If these activities indicate there is widespread exploitation of the student visa system – then remove private VET providers offering low-level and non-award courses from CRICOS.
It remains to be seen if the government will enact each of Nixon’s recommendations in the targeted, nuanced manner she argues for.
Previous regulatory crackdowns in the domestic and international education sectors have been heavy handed – damaging the reputation of the broader sector and quality providers (public and private). The highly targeted recommendations Nixon suggests, along with the broader recommendations in her report including specifically the need to “re-prioritise an immigration compliance function” in the Department of Home Affairs, would be effective in removing fraudulent unethical private VET operators and keeping them out.
While Nixon argues the work of both ASQA and TEQSA should be expanded beyond “the primary focus (of) regulating the quality of education”, it is not clear how much engagement she had with TEQSA. She cleary engaged with ASQA and was advised that “ASQA’s primary focus is on achieving quality education outcomes rather than deterring and disrupting visa exploitation”.
As a former regulator I think this is a rather narrow definition of the national VET regulator’s role.
I would suggest ASQA’s role is to ensure that (a) only genuine VET providers are registered and allowed to operate in the system, and (b) these genuine providers are offering quality education.
ASQA’s responsibilities specifically include ensuring:
- only fit and proper persons are allowed to operate RTOs (Clause 7.1 of the Standards)
- that RTOs are financially viable (Clause 7.2), and
- they operate in accordance with Commonwealth, state and territory legislation (Clause 8.5).
ASQA also has information sharing powers with other government regulators, licensing bodies, and funding bodies.