ALL private colleges will be forced to re-register as part of recommendations made in a review of Australia’s international education system.
The colleges, which will have until the end of April to re-register, will then undergo a rigorous audit process in an effort to weed out those that are corrupt or financially insecure.
The Baird review, chaired by former Liberal MP Bruce Baird, was released last month in response to the government’s proposed amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act, currently being debated in the Federal Parliament.
The move comes as yet another private college, the Austech Institute for Further Education in Sydney’s inner-west, announced its closure, adding a further 700 students to the thousands that have been displaced in New South Wales and Victoria in the last year.
Supported by both major political parties, the review made a number of other recommendations that, if accepted, would bring international students closer to obtaining the same rights as domestic students.
It included recommendations for a single Tuition Protection Service.
Currently education providers operate different assurance schemes that can leave students waiting months to be placed and often without recourse to reclaim lost tuition and other fees.
The review said the process was “confusing”, and advocated a single mechanism that would immediately place affected students in new colleges, and offer refunds if necessary.
It also recommended displaced students be given a spot in public universities or TAFE colleges, and encouraged the Federal Government to improve international student access to referral, advocacy and support services.
The National Union of Students (NUS) president Carla Drakeford welcomed the Baird Review, and said it was a “good omen” for the education sector.
“The recommendations will now mean that there are more robust assurances for international students faced with the collapse of their college,” Ms Drakeford said.
“NUS is particularly happy that internal processes will be established to field student complaints and that all students will be able to seek help from the Commonwealth Ombudsman.”
Ms Drakeford also called on the Federal Government to monitor the re-registration process to ensure students were not disadvantaged.
In the report, Bruce Baird said the industry’s focus had been “fixated on making money rather than anything else”.
He said he was concerned by “false and misleading information provided by some education agents, poor quality education and training, gross over-enrolments and lack of appropriate education facilities”.
The report recommended higher registration fees for high-risk colleges, urged the Federal Government to crack down on unethical recruitment processes by offshore agents, and called for the end of colleges “poaching” students with promises of commission or a faster route to residency.
It also recommended harsh financial penalties for education providers who failed to comply with the law.
Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard said the government would begin implementing some of the recommendations immediately and acknowledged they were necessary if Australia wished to remain a world class education provider.