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Wednesday, 22 August 1979
Page: 441

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs) - by leave- I should like to elaborate on three matters mentioned in the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Howard) concerning matters within the immigration and ethnic affairs portfolio. A decision has been taken by the Government to introduce an annual charge on overseas students undertaking courses at Australian universities and colleges of advanced education. This is one aspect of decisions on a new policy for private overseas students taken by the Government following a comprehensive review of overseas student policy. The Government believes that the overseas student program has helped to promote better understanding of Australia, its people and attitudes. The program has made an important contribution to international cultural exchange and goodwill and provided benefits to developing countries, especially those in areas close to Australia, through additional educational opportunities and skilled manpower training for their people. However, in the period since 1973, the policy has not worked as effectively as it should have to meet the general objectives of the overseas student program.

The criteria for entry have been based mainly on the inability of students to obtain enrolment in courses in their home countries. This has sometimes led to students proposing to undertake courses of little value to the home country but thereby gaining preference over other students of higher academic ability and other students seeking to undertake courses which would be useful to the home country. In addition, although students have been admitted on the clear understanding that they would return to their home countries on completion of their studies, substantial numbers have sought and obtained permanent residence. Almost 75 per cent of students completing formal studies in recent years have applied successfully for resident status. This development has negated the main objectives of the program.

The Government has acted to remove arbitrary limitations on the number of overseas students who may be approved for study in Australia. It has also decided on important changes following the review of policy and procedures. The Government recognises that such policy changes can have implications for other countries which have traditionally sent large numbers of students to Australia. Accordingly, the proposed changes are being discussed with the governments of the main source countries of students before their implementation. The views of those governments will be considered carefully before the proposals are finally implemented.

The Government believes that schemes for people wishing to come here for English language studies, specialised training and under student exchanges are particularly useful in achieving the objectives of the private overseas student program. In future, no numerical limitations will be applied to them. These schemes will be closely monitored to ensure that there is no undue strain on Australian resources or loss of opportunity for Australian students. In addition, many of the restrictions placed on the eligibility of people to participate in these schemes will be removed. In the main, people entering Australia for English language and specialised training courses pay commercial fees and, therefore, will be exempted from the proposed overseas student charge.

New private student criteria are being developed for selecting students from among the tens of thousands of persons applying annually for entry to Australia for studies. The criteria pay particular attention to training capacity in Australia without displacement of local students and take into account such factors as academic ability, the value of the proposed course to the applicant and the home country, country of origin and opportunities for study in the home country. Priority in selection will go to students sponsored by home governments and others such as those granted scholarships and those undertaking post-graduate research within Australian universities. These criteria should enable more students to be accepted from a wider group of countries. Preference will be given to those with high academic ability and those wishing to acquire qualifications that will be of particular use to them in their future careers. The criteria will apply next year to those students seeking to come here for the 1981 academic year.

Provision will be made for entry for secondary studies from certain countries where there is a need for, or advantage in, providing training at this level. There will also be cases where there are special links with Australia. Whilst there will be no limits on numbers accepted, it is not expected that the numbers in this category will be substantial as most countries now have extensive secondary educational systems and many prefer their students to complete their basic education in the national system.

I turn now to the proposal to introduce an annual charge on overseas students as announced by the Treasurer in the Budget Speech.

A constraint on the numbers of private overseas students approved to come to Australia to undertake formal courses of study has been the cost to Australia of providing these educational opportunities. The average annual tuition cost per full-time student at universities is estimated at around $5,500 per annum and at colleges of advanced education just over $4,000 per annum.

Australian students do not pay fees. However, in their case part of the cost of their education at tertiary level comes from Consolidated Revenue contributed in part through tax by their families. No such contribution is made by overseas students or their families although many are well able to afford such costs and, indeed, would have to pay fees if the student undertook higher education in the home country.

The level of charges has been determined after taking account of costs and fees charged by other comparable countries. The Government has been conscious of the need to set charges at a level which will not unduly deter overseas students from undertaking studies in Australia. The new charges to be met by overseas students will range between $1,500 and $2,500 per annum depending on the course chosen. They will apply from the beginning of 1980 to new students and to students changing courses where the student undertakes an award course at a university or college of advanced education. Legislation will be introduced in the near future for this purpose.

Other governments have sought Australia's assistance in educating their citizens, particularly at tertiary levels. In view of this and because of the Government's firm belief that it is in Australia 's interests to develop cultural exchange and international understanding, the new policies have been designed with a view to an increase in the number of students who will be admitted for study at Australian universities and colleges of advanced education. The revenue from the new charges will facilitate this and offset the additional public cost of the increase in overseas students studying in Australia. I emphasise that the above charges apply to private and sponsored overseas students. Australia will continue to provide substantial assistance through the Colombo Plan and similar aid programs. Overseas students sponsored under bilateral arrangements will have their charges paid under aid arrangements.

In my statement of 7 June 1978 to the House on immigration policy, I indicated that while other temporary residents would no longer be eligible for permanent resident status while in Australia, private overseas students would continue to be eligible for permanent residence pending the review of the private overseas student policy. A high proportion of private overseas students has obtained permanent residence in Australia at the conclusion of their studies. Their failure to return to their home country has largely negated the primary objectives of the overseas student program. The

Government has decided that, in future, overseas students will be required to leave Australia on the conclusion of their studies. Applications to return to Australia for residence will not normally be received or considered within two years. This requirement has received general support from overseas governments consulted. Accordingly, and in view of the need to clarify the situation of many people who will soon complete their studies, the Government has decided that this requirement will be effective immediately. This means that applications from overseas students in Australia for resident status will not normally be considered. Applications already lodged will be determined under the policy applying up to now.

The new policies will make the private overseas student program more effective and facilitate opportunities for an increased number of people to study in Australia within the limits of Australia's educational and training capacity, lt is envisaged that most of the increased numbers will be drawn from the traditional source countries of students such as the Association of South East Asian Nation countries, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific. We expect these initiatives to ensure that Australia attracts well-qualified students and those who will acquire special skills or expertise of particular value to them in their chosen careers in their home country. Overseas governments, especially those in the major source countries, will be invited to take advantage of the new policy by sponsoring increased numbers of students to study in Australia and by indicating their training needs and priorities for inclusion in the new selection criteria. The proposed policy changes will contribute significantly to international cultural exchange and understanding. They should also provide major additional benefits to developing countries through increased educational opportunities and skilled manpower training for their people.

I turn now to the adult migrant education program. This is a national program funded and co-ordinated by the Commonwealth. It provides initial settlement courses in English language and information about Australia for new arrivals, migrants and refugees, and provides further English language learning opportunities for both recent and earlier arrivals. Most courses are provided by State education services under arrangements with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The cost of these courses is met from the appropriations for the adult migrant education program in the Commonwealth Budget.

The objectives and targets arising from the Galbally report and accepted by the Government have meant a strengthening and refocusing of the English language education program for adult migrants and refugees as well as a substantial increase in activity. The sum of $24. 1 m is to be appropriated for the operation of the migrant and refugee education program in Australia during 1 979-80. This is an increase of just over 33V4 per cent on the $ 1 8m spent on operational costs in 1 978-79. It is four times the amount spent in 1974-75. A further $820,000 is to be appropriated to establish facilities including educational accommodation for the initial program. The emphasis in 1979-80 will be on the development of community settlement centres.

The Galbally report recommended that the permanent nature of the adult migrant education program should be given practical recognition by establishing for it a rolling three-year program. When tabling the report on 30 May 1978, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said that the adult migrant education program would be established as a three-year program. The same level of funds as provided for 1 979-80 will, as a minimum, be maintained in 1980-8 1. If warranted, additional funds will be provided in that year. Funds for 1981-82 will need to reflect the intakes of migrants and refugees planned for next year and also the outcome of the surveys, which have now commenced, of the English language needs of migrants.

Finally, 1 would like to elaborate on the reference in the Budget Speech to the introduction of charges for certain services provided by my Department. It is Government policy to recover the costs of administrative services by imposition of charges, wherever this is practical and consistent with other policy objectives. In keeping with this policy, the Government proposes to introduce charges for seven services in the areas covered by my portfolio:

Processing an application for the grant of a further temporary entry permit- $20; processing an application for change of status, that is from a temporary entrant to a permanent resident- $50; processing an application for grant of a return endorsement- $20 or $30 at an overseas post; conducting English language tests at overseas posts- $25; processing an application for evidence of resident status- $20; obtaining information by way of cables initiated by applicants or clients- $ 15; assessing a person 's overseas professional or technical qualifications- $20.

The first four charges will require legislative authority and 1 will be introducing a Bill, probably tonight, to amend the Migration Act. The remaining charges can be implemented administratively without legislation. It is proposed that all charges, with the exception of English language testing, will come into effect from 1 November 1979. The charge for English language testing for persons overseas will have the same date of effect, that is 1 January 1980, as for the charges I outlined at the opening of this statement.

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