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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

dodgy vocational education « Previous | |Next »
July 29, 2009

Clearly there is something quite dodgy about Australia's vocational education export industry. The lid is being lifted on unscrupulous colleges, migration agents, education agents and businesses in which international students are treated as commodities in a marketplace that charges top dollar for low-grade education and training by private colleges that go bust. Some universities are part of the network.


Is it a government sanctioned racket about permanent-residency-seeking students for the export dollar? The state and commonwealth education authorities have failed to protect the welfare and interests of overseas students. Consequently, the bad press about Australia's overseas student program -- unscrupulous agents, violence, predatorial campuses --and the lack of industry regulation will dampen demand for vocational courses acting as immigration conduits.

The Australian Council for Private Education and Training says that it is just a few bad apples---a few shonky colleges ripping off international students. Julia Gillard says it is a world class sector with a good safety net to protect students from colleges going bust during a global economic recession. Etc etc.Both state and commonwealth governments continue to boost Australia's education industry as world class and as 3rd biggest export earner. It's all about money.

So should there be an "no automatic link" between study in Australia and access to permanent residency? Or should there be much tougher regulation?

It makes policy sense for the federal government to link Australia's growing international student program with the economic need for more qualified migrants to fill shortages. So the government smoothed the way for international students to gain permanent residency here once they had graduated with a qualification that was in short supply, provided they met other requirements such as English language proficiency. However, when the the scheme was expanded to include more students with vocational training (cooking and hairdressing) the door opened for operators to set up poor-quality colleges with the primary purpose of giving students permanent residency rather than an educational qualification.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:20 AM | | Comments (14)


If the qualification the potential migrant has is worthless because s/he has paid for a 'pass', then surely the premise by which we accept migrants with Australian education qualifications is also without value.

Let's be clear: skilled migrants with genuine qualifications are welcome. If we start accepting money and residency applications from potential migrants who buy dodgy qualifications, we are really only white-anting ourselves.

See my blog on this very topic:

If you removed the link between study and residency you'd stop half of the rort, but the training organisations would still rip people off. There would be less OS students in that case to rip off in the first place.

I admire the guts and organisation of these students getting themselves heard. But it's the third biggest export because it's the way it is. Fix the problems and it won't be so lucrative.

From the link to the Australian piece on universities, 220 out of 230 masters theses plagiarised. Having worked on my PhD for three agonising years now, it's hard to describe how it feels to read that. I was already disillusioned with the whole thing and could have done with something a little more uplifting.

console yourself with the thought that there is a big gap between masters and a doctorate.

great post there. There has been a big tendency by the non-regulated vocational colleges to put migration ahead of education. I concur with one of your commentators who says that:

There simply needs to be more accountability, scrutiny and analysis of the industry, by the industry and others, to develop policy and strategy [to regulate the education sector] aggressively promoting study and migration through constant newspaper adverts, fairs and seminars in India.

I concur with your comment above that in allowing potential migrants to buy dodgy qualifications from mickey mouse private colleges Australia is really only white-anting itself. It can be tightened up by ensuring that skilled migration and education is linked to professional jobs and construction trades where there were genuine shortages in Australia.

I am surprised that Labor is trying to sweep the corruption under the carpet, given that they were so hot on the corrupt migrant /education/residency practice when they were in opposition.

both the commonwealth and state governments have lists of dodgy migrant agents and colleges given to them. No doubt things become a little twisted in government circles and the bureaucracy ends up compiling reports on the protesting international students. A positive image must be presented at all costs.

The same commenter said

"There appears to be no practice of marketing, i.e. research, strategy, analysis, feedback and especially no regular surveying of students and stakeholders for feedback (which is widespread internationally in education)."

That's amazing, considering the acres of feedback universities have to collect. I guess we're seeing that feedback now, except it can't be kept in-house.

"console yourself with the thought that there is a big gap between masters and a doctorate." I've been inconsolable for about six months now, for similar reasons and regardless of the credential. In the end, it's all either politics or profit.

I agree with Adeline. In the toss up between short term gain and a long term positive image, short term gain won. Do we expect Julia Gillard to actually do anything, or will it get the diplomatic airbrush treatment?

On the subject of education as commodity, Robert Merkel has a post on Melbourne Uni's decision to cut staff because of the GFC.

Comment 7, Prudence, is worth reading.

Peter Singer also had something about the loss of liberal arts here in a newspaper article recently, but I'm having trouble finding it.

Found it.

Published the same day Tony Abbott said we don't need philosophy, just good guidance from our grandparents.

The state and commonwealth governments now say they are doing audits of the international vocational education sector to weed out the dodgy operators who are only interested in making profits.

Yet they have known about the visa factories for migration for the last three years at least. They must have reasoned that prosecuting shonky private vocational colleges would paint the export education sector/industry as a whole as dodgy. That negative image could not be allowed. So things were pushed under the carpet.

Well, even on their terms, the behaviour of a few has tarnished the reputation of the export education industry. The vocational colleges can expect less enrollments from Indian students. The market has collapsed.

you would not want to teach in one of these private international educational colleges. In The Age Leah Shmerling describes her experiences as a teacher:

Teachers are appointed on a temporary sessional basis. In my case, there was no commitment from the college for ongoing work beyond eight to 10 weeks of the term. This means that there is no staff consistency, no team culture and follow-up with students becomes difficult. Staff salaries are also interfered with. A campus manager can arbitrarily alter your timesheet, irrespective of the hours you have worked. It means that teachers may not get paid for the teaching hours they completed.Or the hourly pay rate can change, and is often reduced as you undertake ‘‘other’’ work. There is seldom any discussion about this.

Many students are not interested in their course, seeing it only as a pathway to permanent residency in Australia. She adds that in a market-driven, and highly competitive, industry, it is the students, as consumers, who reign supreme. Teaching staff are at the whim of the students and the campus manager or course co-ordinator. Your experience and qualifications as a professional, and your perspective, count for little.

I thought that Melbourne Uni had been cutting back on the humanities for years. I concur with Singer when he says:

The leading American universities cherish the ideal of a liberal arts education that in Australia seems to have been overwhelmed by vocational and professional training.

What has been lost in Australia's neo-liberal, “utilitarian” education system is the capacity of the universities to teach students to think for themselves.They mostly play lip service to this Enlightenment ideal.

The Howard Government was deeply opposed to this conception of higher education--freedom cannot be allowed to get out of hand can it? They used to valorize low grade vocational education) practical education for a practical people) not Abbott's moral guidance from grandparents. Who is Abbott trying to kid with his appeal to authority and to social customs and traditions?

On the PhD thing re your "I've been inconsolable for about six months now, for similar reasons and regardless of the credential. In the end, it's all either politics or profit". Being inconsolable is par for the course in learning how to think for yourself. Because that kind of education is so badly taught in Australia and most academics do not do it, this education as bildung (Hegel) becomes, by necessity bootstrap stuff.

Slightly off topic but tangentially related is Australian Universities and the Australian government refusing to recognize degrees of immigrants or potential immigrants that are an order of magnitude more rigorous than the ones that many students can obtain here.

What I am concerned about is that there does not seem to be anyone calculating the net present value of Australian residency.

At least it will be less when the first home owners Grants cut out at Federal and State levels. What is the advantage of having Australian Permanent residency?

This situation has been bubbling away since 1992 when the government permitted universities to charge fees to non-Australian students. As university and high school funds decreased so universities and high schools courted fee paying students. The students are supposed to attend 80% of classes but the department of immigration never followed up. This lax regime provided opportunities for businessmen to open training colleges that collected money from students, screwed their staff into the ground etc. University of Central Queensland is financially viable because of its Melbourne and Sydney campuses for international students, the most successful part of their operation is providing accommodation through UniLodge. Without international students there would be no university in Rockhampton or Emerald.
Students who fail an English proficiency exam must complete a 12 month TAFE course - they are not retested and its obvious that students with low language skills struggle to pass. On a philosophical point the casual observer assumes that an Australian university degree denotes a proficiency in English. Those in the know will not hire an ethnic without checking their academic transcript