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From the Chancellery:
A Knight in shining armour

UniSA Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Høj.There is a popular image in Western culture of the knight in shining armour riding up to rescue the young woman in distress. While it is certainly insulting to think that women need to wait around for a man to save them, some vice chancellors may have recalled the story when the federal government accepted all 41 recommendations of the Strategic Review of the Student Visa Program conducted by Michael Knight AO.

International students provide huge benefits to Australia. Since the Colombo Plan was conceived in the 1950s, international education has created many important political, cultural and economic links between Australia and the rest of the world, particularly Asia. Anyone who was in the audience for Rhinoceros in Love in the recent OzAsia Festival would have experienced the cultural richness these links have brought Australia as hundreds of Chinese students roared with laughter at jokes that sometimes escaped those who were only able to read the surtitles.

Given current policy settings, international education also provides a critical revenue stream for universities. In the past two years, international enrolments in Australia have been threatened by the very strong Australian dollar, increased competition from other countries and, most importantly, far more stringent student visa conditions. The restrictions on visas were introduced because of concerns about low-quality higher education providers (particularly in the VET sector) but perhaps also because of a very damaging, and in my view depressingly shallow, electoral debate about migration.

The Knight Review recommended streamlined visa processing arrangements for students enrolled in university courses at the level of bachelor degree or higher. All such students, regardless of their country of origin, will be treated as though they are lower-risk visa holders. This will mean that the financial guarantee requirements for students from countries such as China will be much less demanding than at present. The government has also announced the introduction of post-study work visas of between two and four years.

These improvements come with a warning. The government has indicated that it will be watching the behaviour of universities. An institution which treats the new settings carelessly will find itself under close and uncomfortable scrutiny. These changes are most welcome, although we do not expect them to affect recruitment until perhaps the beginning of 2013. They reflect intense effort by individual universities, state governments and sector representative associations such as Universities Australia and the ATN to explain the damage caused by the previous settings and to work with the federal government to develop a better approach. I am looking forward to enjoying even more all the best aspects that Australia’s multicultural mix provides.

UniSA Vice Chancellor
Professor Peter Høj