Could enrolment caps be coming for international students?

I expect that there are plenty of people in the UK that would love a prominent government minister to talk positively about the economic benefits international students:

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

It’s a big export. The biggest we don’t dig out of the ground. Our fourth largest export overall. In the last decade we have helped to educate more than 3 million people from around the world. A $48 billion dollar industry.

And I suspect plenty would like ministers to talk of the softer benefits too:

But it doesn’t just make us money. It also makes us friends. Because when a student comes here to study they don’t just get an education. A bit of Australia rubs off on them. They fall in love with the place. And when they go home, they take that love and affection for us back home with them.

In Australia, which appears to be about a year ahead of us in terms of debate about immigration and international students – and has a centristish Labo(u)r government – the next step in delivering on the objectives of the government’s Migration Strategy have been announced, along with a draft International Education and Skills Strategic Framework.

Aimed at supporting the “sustainability, quality and integrity” of its “world-class” international education sector, the headline pledge is that the government will limit the number of international students that can be enrolled over a particular period of time.

If universities want to enrol international students above that limit, they will be required to establish additional, new supply of purpose-built student accommodation to benefit both international and domestic students and free up pressure on the rental market.

There will be sharp intakes of breath at that restriction of institutional autonomy in the UK – but the idea that universities should have the “freedom” to enrol students when they’ll have nowhere to live is a curious one.

Last year Australia increased the amount of savings that international students need to get a student visa to £15,646. Our limit hasn’t gone up in six years – tricking international students into believing they’ll be able to afford the UK, only for many to be plunged into poverty on arrival.

If ours was to rocket up, some would worry about the way in which that would depress recruitment – after all, shouldn’t universities have the “freedom” to enrol students when they’ll struggle to pay for it?

Agents have long been formally regulated in Australia. The new bill mandates providers to disclose commission details to the government, empowers it to share information about education agents with providers, facilitates access to performance data of education agents and introduces measures to manage provider registration and course additions – giving the Minister for Education authority to halt processing these applications for up to a year.

The freedom to hide how much of the tuition fee is going to an agent that often contributes to poor information going to students about education and costs and is another one that the UK tends to strangely cling to.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, the important measures in this bill are the next steps in strengthening our international education sector, shutting out the shonks, giving our providers long term certainty and setting this national asset up for future success.

That would do, wouldn’t it?

One response to “Could enrolment caps be coming for international students?

  1. One small point – if we think about regulation as the government establishing rules, standards and oversight and then enforcing these rules in any way – then agents are not formally regulated in Australia as stated here.
    Around 80% of international students come to Australia through an agent but the government has no way to regulate them or enforce their standards on them except to push providers (including universities) to not work with dodgy agents. That’s why the government started the PRISMS collection system and then transparently publishing the quality/outcomes of students that agents put forward so that providers could hopefully be more scrupulous in who they work with as the government otherwise has no power over them.

Leave a Reply