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Opposition and Greens want inquiry into priva -

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Opposition and Greens want inquiry into private education providers

Sabra Lane reported this story on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 12:18:00

PETER CAVE: The Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard concedes there are some
private vocational colleges that aren't offering high quality services to foreign students.

But Ms Gillard says the Government is actively addressing the problems by increasing the number of
audits carried out on the colleges and organising a round-table meeting with students to find out
what more can be done.

The actions follow the collapse of two colleges this month and a series of recent assaults on
Indian students in both Melbourne and Sydney.

From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: On Monday night, the ABC's Four Corners revealed that foreign students were being
exploited by dodgy private colleges and unscrupulous migrant agents.

This month two private colleges have collapsed in Sydney and Melbourne, leaving hundreds of
students in limbo.

The Federal Government says those students will be offered a comparable place with another
education provider or their money back.

The Education Minister Julia Gillard says she's already ordered a review on what other measures
might be offered to students in these situations but says most foreign students report a positive
education experience in Australia.

JULIA GILLARD: Our international education system overall, even in the days of the global
recession, is performing well and holding up well. We have around half a million international
students studying here. We survey them to see how they found life and their study experience in
Australia and overwhelmingly they answered those surveys positively.

So we do have to move to address problems but we also want to acknowledge that there are many
international students here, indeed hundreds of thousands of them, who are enjoying their
educational experience in this country.

SABRA LANE: Ms Gillard spoke with Radio National this morning.

She will fly to India later this year to discuss the problem, and will chair a special round-table
of foreign students in September.

Ms Gillard though accepts some operators aren't doing the right thing.

JULIA GILLARD: There are some operators who have caused problems and we want to address that but I
don't accept the premise of your question that somehow this is a broad brush across all of the
international education industry. It is not.

We have high quality providers; satisfied students.

Now, that doesn't mean that we turn a blind eye to bad practice and we have already acted to step
up targeted audits to ensure that there is good quality and compliance with what we would say is
the right thing to do for international students.

SABRA LANE: The Opposition says that's not good enough. Its spokeswoman on immigration and
citizenship is Sharman Stone. She says the future of the $15 billion a year education industry is
at risk.

SHARMAN STONE: This government has been dazzled by the earnings from this sector and has not been
game to set things right. Well, that is just appalling because now we've got this problem of major
reputation damage. We've got students who are losing great heart, who are losing a lot of money,
hard earned money that their parents have sacrificed to put together and it will take us a lot of
urgent action right now, not just a think tank, not just a round-table, to set it right.

SABRA LANE: And she says it's time for an independent inquiry.

SHARMAN STONE: They need to urgently audit all of the colleges. They've got to look at the
accommodation and employment experiences of these students. I've met with students. I've met with
the high commissioners, the ambassadors. I've met with a lot of the education agents who are good
operators who are worried sick about their reputation being trashed by the shonky dealers.

I mean, if I am getting all this information, this government surely must open its ears and start
acting urgently because it is not hard to find out exactly what is going on. It is under people's
nose every day.

SABRA LANE: Is it time for a full independent inquiry into this industry?

SHARMAN STONE: I've called for that. It is absolutely necessary that all of the elements of this
education sector are on the table. That includes how colleges are accredited in the first instance,
he fact that there's no ombudsman specifically for these students, the fact that their complaints
seem to fall on deaf ears.

SABRA LANE: The Greens also say the Government's response is inadequate.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: It is not good enough for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Education
to simply turn a blind eye, shake her head and say it is all too hard. She has to take
responsibility for this.

SABRA LANE: The Greens education spokeswoman, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: We know that the regulations are not up to scratch. We need the Government to
be setting now higher standards for the courses that are delivered, the service delivery and the
looking after of the welfare of these young people

You've got to remember that a number of these young people who come to Australia as the place they
choose to study have left their families. They have lent money, their families have pooled together
everything that they have got to send them here to give them a good chance of getting an education
and hopefully getting a job and they are already in a vulnerable situation.

Of course, we need to be, as a host country, treating our visitors better. We would expect a better
treatment and response if these were Australian students we were talking about getting a raw deal
in Delhi.

PETER CAVE: Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young ending that report by Sabra Lane.