Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Baird Report on International Students

The Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, welcomed today's release of "Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students" by Bruce Baird. This recommends improved regulation of Australia’s international education sector, support for international students, improved information improved support for for students and consumer protection mechanisms.

The report is a 108 page 1.2Mbyte PDF document (Executive Summary and Contents appended).

The Government supports recommendations to amend the ESOS Act to increase the standard for education providers and restricting unethical student recruitment practices. Other changes will require state legislation.

It occurs to me that many of the proposed recommendations, such as improving information to students and consumer protection, would also benefit Australian students. The legislation could be drafted to apply to all students and institutions, not just international ones. Also the government could bring forward its proposed "My University" website, to supply better information on universities to all students and expand it to include the vocational sector for information on TAFEs and commercial training organisations. Rather than setting up complex and expensive state based services for international students, the Commonwealth could fund services avialable online for all students.

Executive summary
Australia’s international education sector provides life-changing opportunities for international students, strengthens Australia’s diplomatic relations, brings considerable benefits to our education institutions and builds on our already unique and successful multicultural society. In addition,
international education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry generating substantial income and jobs. ...

This report proposes a number of recommendations that aim to strengthen, simplify and streamline ESOS, which would in turn provide greater support for international students in Australia and protect Australia’s reputation for quality education. Changes are also required beyond ESOS around student safety, access to transport concessions, accommodation and community engagement—key factors that contribute to a student’s overall experience in Australia.

Supporting students
Adequately and appropriately supporting students in Australia is at the heart of the sustainability of the sector.

Recommendations to better support students include requirements for improved information prior to students coming to Australia and during their stay, an enhanced process to address the role of education agents, more support to study and live in Australia, including having somewhere to go when problems arise, and stronger consumer protection mechanisms.

When students are making decisions about moving to Australia to study they require clear, accurate information. They need to be able to choose which city they would like to live in, what type of provider they wish to enrol with, and what courses they would like to study. Students need to be able to compare consistent information to make the most accurate choices. Students also need to be aware of what it is like living in Australia: culture and customs, services and resources as well as protections, rights and responsibilities.

Currently some providers and overseas education agents are issuing incomplete, irrelevant, old and/or misleading information to students. There is a need for strengthened requirements for information provision about learning and living in Australia by both providers and governments and increased emphasis on providers taking responsibility for their agents’ actions. Once in Australia, international students need ongoing access to comprehensive, informative and relevant orientation programs and ongoing access to orientation information.

Students need somewhere to go for support and advice, referral services, information on how to engage with the community and an avenue to have their voice heard. This review supports the International Student Roundtable recommendation and the suggestion from many students throughout the ESOS review consultation process to create international student hubs in all capital cities.

Even with improved information and support, there will still be times when international students have a complaint. Providers are already required to have suitable dispute resolution processes but the review considers the final step in this process—an independent, robust external complaints handling process—would be improved by mandating all providers use the relevant Ombudsman.

The recent dramatic growth in students coming to Australia, alongside the increase in vocational education and training (VET) providers offering a narrow range of courses linked to migration outcomes and sourcing students from a limited number of countries, has increased the risk of closures. This has put considerable pressure on the current tuition protection framework, with fears it is unsustainable. Consultation with key stakeholders and independent actuarial advice has informed the recommendation to replace the current arrangements with a single tuition protection service.

This service would be fully funded by industry and could either be run by a Commonwealth body or outsourced and independently operated.

Protecting Australia’s reputation for quality education Whilst recognising the primacy of domestic education quality frameworks, recommendations have also been made to rebuild and assure Australia’s reputation for quality education. This includes improved regulation of providers, enforcement of clear minimum standards and support for better integrated and automated systems for information sharing.

Education is important for domestic and international students alike and there is no need to duplicate education quality assurance frameworks already in place. However, more needs to be done to improve the link between ESOS and education quality assurance frameworks.

The entry requirements need to be strengthened for providers wanting to enter the sector.

Changes need to be made to ensure providers have the financial resources to operate and a sustainable business model. They need to have the right capacity, capability and intent to operate successfully.

Risk needs to be better identified at entry into the sector and a range of indicators need to be used that go to the heart of whether the provider will be able to operate successfully now and in the future.

This assessment of risk should guide whether the provider gains entry to the sector, and it should be used to test and scrutinise providers already through the gateway.

There needs to be a much stronger regulatory presence and the move to national regulators is a step in the right direction. However, there also needs to be greater transparency of regulatory activity so that both providers and students can monitor the level of regulatory activity and be informed by its outcomes.

Beyond ESOS
Migration-skewed demand has undoubtedly impacted on the reputation of our international education sector but the recent changes to general skilled migration will go some way to address this. Where possible, future changes should be grandfathered to soften the impact for students.

Beyond ESOS, Australia’s international education reputation depends on how well we provide for the wellbeing of international students and their whole experience of studying and living in Australia.

We need to ensure they are safe, have appropriate health insurance, have access to adequate and appropriate accommodation and are not being exploited by landlords or in the workplace.

The development of COAG’s strategy for international students is an important step in this regard.

The inequitable treatment of transport concessions for international students by some state governments is strongly felt by affected students.

The recommendations and findings in this report acknowledge the challenging environment in which the sector is operating and are designed to build on what is working and improve those areas that are not.

Immediate implementation of the recommendations in this report will position Australia’s international education sector for a sustainable future. All stakeholders—governments, providers, peak bodies, students, agents and the wider Australian community—need to play their part in delivering these much needed changes.

Recommendations and findings

Chapter 2—Enhancing Australia’s reputation for quality education

1. That ESOS be amended to require providers to demonstrate that the:
a. delivery arrangements for each course do not undermine the integrity of the student visa program
b. English language entry levels and support are appropriate for the course and, where relevant, the expected professional outcomes.

Chapter 3—Building a stronger gateway

2. That ESOS registration be amended to only allow providers to be registered and maintain registration if they have:
a. access to the financial resources to meet the objects of ESOS
b. a sustainable business model
c. the capacity, capability, governance structures and management to uphold Australia’s reputation for quality education and training to international students.
3. That ESOS regulators adopt a consistent, comprehensive risk management approach developed
and maintained in consultation with stakeholders and experts to:
a. profile providers at entry to determine the level of scrutiny, evidence, tests and costs that apply at registration and through the period of registration
b. update every provider’s profile on a regular basis to reassess the level of scrutiny and tests that should apply.
4. That ESOS be amended to support better risk management by:
a. allowing conditions on initial registration and throughout the registration period so a provider can be subject to additional scrutiny and tests as their risk profile demands
b. limiting the period of registration for each provider.

Chapter 4—Stronger, simpler, smarter regulation

5. That ESOS be made stronger by:
a. introducing financial penalties for a broader range of non-compliant behaviour
b. establishing clear, objective and enforceable standards that providers must meet
c. ensuring resourcing levels for regulatory activities are adequate
d. publishing targets and regularly reporting on all regulatory activities undertaken.

6. That ESOS be made simpler by:
a. allowing national registration of providers with assessment of the suitability and capacity of individual courses at each location
b. supporting the principle that wherever possible each provider should have only one regulator
c. developing shared regulatory philosophies and business practices to ensure a consistent and effective approach to regulation.

7. That ESOS be made smarter by:

a. giving the Australian Government Minister for Education the discretion to exercise otherwise delegated powers where necessary, and authority to issue directions as to the consistent application of ESOS
b. ensuring the level of prescription in the standards is only that which is required to achieve the intent.
8. That ESOS be amended to specify that all providers must utilise a statutorily independent complaints body as their external complaints and appeals process, and amend the Ombudsman Act 1976 to extend the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to include those providers without access to such a body.
9. That the Migration Act 1958 be amended to enable a more flexible approach to the current visa cancellation requirements for students who are reported for failing to maintain satisfactory course progress or attendance.

Chapter 5—Ensuring accurate information and ethical recruitment
10. That ESOS be amended to ensure students can accurately compare potential study choices by requiring information from all providers relating to the:
a. history, scope, location and type of provider
b. student cohort
c. course, including entrance standards, costs, award and anticipated professional outcomes
d. academic and student support services offered
e. local employment opportunities, the accommodation situation in the locality and safety risks.
11. That the Australian Government expands the Study in Australia website to include a comprehensive international student manual, available in the languages of major source countries.
12. That ESOS be amended to restrict unethical recruitment practices by:
a. introducing financial penalties for providers whose offshore agents act unethically
b. implementing a unique identifier for each student
c. requiring all provider payments to agents to be contingent upon disclosure of the recruiting agent and their commission structure to both students and regulators
d. expanding the requirements of student written agreements to more completely describe the course, course costs, refund provisions and transfer limitations
e. prohibiting the payment of any commission or inducement to anyone for securing the transfer of any currently studying onshore international students
f. prohibiting a provider from enrolling a student who is currently studying with another provider and who has yet to complete the first study period of their initial course.
13. That the Australian Government should work with industry stakeholders and foreign governments to strengthen students’ consumer protection rights in their home country; and continue to support the professional development of education agents.

Chapter 6—Supporting students in Australia

14. That ESOS be amended to require providers to demonstrate that they deliver a comprehensive induction program and access to information on a continuing basis that:
a. is reasonably adapted to the needs of their students
b. allows students to easily access the information on an ongoing basis
c. includes information on safety, student rights, and where to seek support in making complaints.
15. That the Australian Government, working in conjunction with states and territories, establish international student hubs in each capital city as a place for international students to seek information, access referral and advocacy services, build ties with the Australian community and strengthen the voice of international students to providers and government.

Chapter 7—Safeguarding students’ interests: stronger tuition protection

16. That ESOS be amended to establish a single Tuition Protection Service that:
a. provides a single mechanism to place students when a provider cannot meet its refund obligations and as a last resort provide refunds
b. allows placement with any appropriate provider
c. makes the cost of being a member of a tuition protection scheme risk based
d. requires providers to regularly maintain student contact details in PRISMS and other information on a risk basis
e. removes providers having ministerial exemptions from membership of a tuition protection scheme.
17. That ESOS be amended to:
a. only refund the portion of the course not delivered or assessed when the provider fails to meet their obligation
b. establish that where a provider does not meet their refund obligations, this would be an issue in the fit and proper test for any future registration application.
18. That ESOS regulators impose conditions on higher risk providers that only allow the collection of ‘course monies’ as defined in ESOS.
19. That the Australian Government explores harmonising tuition protection arrangements for domestic and international students.


Chapter 2—Enhancing Australia’s reputation for quality education

i. Education Ministers should:
a. ensure the vulnerabilities exposed in the education quality assurance frameworks by unscrupulous international education providers are addressed
b. consider whether the current education quality assurance frameworks appropriately assure Australian education and training delivered offshore
c. ensure regulators and policy makers actively take into consideration student outcomes and industry benchmarks, where available, when considering the adequacy of a provider’s resources, facilities, teachers and support services.

ii. The Australian Government should:

a. consider changing the skilled migration program settings to remove the bias towards particular courses and instead focus on higher skilled qualifications in the VET and higher education sectors
b. ‘grandfather’ future changes to skilled migration policy, where possible and appropriate, for international students and recent graduates.
iii. The Australian Government should work with the sector to adapt the Good Practice Principles for English Language Proficiency for International Students in Australian Universities to each education sector and encourage implementation.

Chapter 6—Supporting students in Australia

iv. Further research should be undertaken to better understand the causes and frequency of violence against international students.
v. The state and territory police forces should work with providers, student representative bodies and the international student hubs to deliver better safety information to international students.
vi. International students should have access to equitable travel concessions.
vii. Providers should play a more active role in securing accommodation for international students.
viii. The Fair Work Ombudsman should continue to deliver outreach programs that work with providers, unions, students and peak bodies to promote and enforce the safeguards of the Australian industrial relations system.
ix. The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), in consultation with international students, should work with health insurance providers to make a wider range of health insurance policies available to international students. ...

From: Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students, Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000, Bruce Baird, Australian Education International, ISBN 978-0-642-32945-5, March 2010.

Government response to recommendations:



1, 2, 3, 4, 5(a,b,d), 12(c,d,f)

Support in principle and begin action to implement.

5(c), 10, 11, 14, 15

Begin immediate consultation with States and Territories through the Ministerial Council process and COAG.

13, 14, 16, 17 ,18

Begin immediate consultation with the International Education industry.

6, 7, 12(b), 19

Issues to be considered via TEQSA and the National VET regulator.

8, 9

For consultation with the Attorney General and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

From: Baird review into International Students final report, Media release, Julia Gillard, Minister for Education, 9 March, 2010

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