Present tense

Welcome to another year of Present Tense, your window onto the post-secondary education industry in Australia.

Migration crackdown

Just before Christmas, the federal government announced some fairly wide-ranging changes to Australia’s migration system. Many of these changes are focused on the growing number of international students coming into the country, so any crackdown may have some effect on the sector.

The international student market faced down an existential crisis during the pandemic, and few students arrived after March 2020. However, numbers have rebounded strongly since the borders were reopened in late 2022, with overall migration arrivals at nearly half a million in 2023 (a large proportion of these are students with temporary visas).

As part of the changes announced in December, the government plans to focus on the so-called “low-quality” providers, and to try to end the pernicious practice of using student visas as a back door to securing low-paid workers, most of whom have no intention of studying. The government is not looking at caps on student visas at this stage.

Long-time observers of the sector may get a sense a deja vu, and it’s true that governments of all stripes have long threatened crackdowns on “dodgy colleges”. Time will tell if this latest effort is just more of the same, or if it presages more meaningful changes for the industry.

State of the industry

There’s no question that 2023 was something of a boom year for the post-secondary sector, with student numbers continuing to grow. That said, such growth has been much needed after the grim days of the pandemic. Figures from English Australia suggest that arrival numbers are still growing, but there are some signs the backlog is starting the clear.

In the year to September 2023, overall ELICOS commencements increased by more than 100 per cent, and enrolments by over 150 per cent. Colombia is a huge growth market (246 per cent increase), while Brazil, China and Thailand also recorded strong upticks.

The ongoing pivot away from China continues, though, with students from China now just 10 per cent of overall enrolments, representing a diversification of the student cohort in Australia.

Despite this growth, visa grants appear to be stalling slowly, with over 2000 fewer visas granted in September compared with 2022. This suggests the post-pandemic boom may soon be over, and colleges may need to start looking at the new normal for international student numbers being somewhat lower than we’ve seen over the past 18 months.

All this said, teacher shortages remain acute. The pandemic hollowed out the teacher cohort to some extent, and those who left are yet to be fully replaced. Consequently, it’s still something of a seller’s market for teachers, and with the ageing of the population, this may remain the case for some years.

So there’s never been a better time to join your union, and work with your colleagues to improve pay and conditions at your college. Join the IEU:

phone: 8202 8900

There are many benefits to IEU membership and union fees are tax deductible. So join your union today and find out how we can help at your college!