New Delhi: At least five Australian universities have placed bans or restrictions on students from some Indian states in response to a surge in fraudulent applications from people whose primary purpose is to seek to work after applying to cheaper educational institutions.
According to emails reviewed by the Australian newspapers The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, there is a “crackdown on applications from Indian students”. The newspapers said the universities which have placed a ban or restriction on Indian students are Victoria University, Edith Cowan University, the University of Wollongong, Torrens University, and agents working for Southern Cross University.
According to the report, the restrictions and bans apply primarily to applicants from eight Indian states, among which are Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Edith Cowan University in Perth “placed an outright ban” on applicants from Punjab and Haryana in February, the Herald reported, adding that in March, “Victoria University increased restrictions on student applications from eight Indian states”, including UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Ironically, the restrictions were put in place by Victoria University just a few days after Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese travelled to India to “celebrate Australia’s educational ties and to announce a new agreement with Australian universities and colleges”. He had claimed that the new agreement would start “the most comprehensive and ambitious arrangement agreed to by India with any country.”
The “mutual recognition of qualifications between Australia and India,” which would ease university travel to either country, was a major part of the deal.
According to the Herald, Victoria University’s regional recruitment manager Alex Hanlon wrote to education agents that the institution has decided to implement a higher level of requirements in some areas in India in “an effort to strengthen the profile of students from areas where we have seen increased visa risks”.
A university spokeswoman said the restrictions included “assessing gaps in applicants’ study history to determine if they are suitably qualified and prepared for international study in Australia and can support themselves adequately”.
Why have the restrictions been put in place?
There is a surge of applicants from South Asia to Australian universities, the report says, which is likely to see the country break the previous record of admitting 75,000 students from India in 2019.
After closing its borders at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia began to reopen gradually in 2021. The Department of Home Affairs, which oversees the country’s student visa programme, said in a statement, “we witnessed an increase in incomplete applications and the presentation of fraudulent information and documentation in student visa applications.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, many applications have been deemed by universities as not meeting Australian visa requirements that the applicants are “genuine temporary entrants” coming solely for education. Therefore, the universities say higher restrictions have been put in place for some Indian states because they do not want the Australian Home Affairs to “reduce their ability to fast-track student visas because of the number of applicants who are actually seeking to work – not study”.
According to the report, the recent increase has raised questions from lawmakers and the education community about “the integrity of Australia’s immigration system and the long-term effects on the country’s valuable international education market”.
There is also a surge in applications from people seeking to work in Australia and gain permanent residency, according to the report. “The vocational education sector is also seeing a surge in applications from students ultimately judged to be too risky to accept,” it says.
According to the report, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs rejected an “unprecedented” 94% of offshore applicants from India to study in Australia’s vocational sector. For applicants from the US, the UK and France, the corresponding figure was less than 1%. “In 2006, when Home Affairs started publishing records of this nature, 91% of applicants from India were accepted,” it says.
One university in March set higher conditions on its “genuine temporary entrant” test for student applicants from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nigeria and “other countries deemed a risk [of students not being a genuine temporary entrant] by the Department of Home Affairs”.
The Herald report says that the “deluge of applications from South Asia” began after the previous government headed by Scott Morrison removed the 20-hour per week limit on the amount of work students can do in January 2022. “The move encouraged those wanting a low-skill Australian work visas to apply to cheaper education institutions. The Albanese government will on July 1 reintroduce this work limit, but lift it to 24 hours a week,” the report says.
International students a lucrative resource for universities
According to data from the federal education department, the University of Sydney received $1.4 billion in income from tuition-paying international students in 2021, Monash University received $917 million, and the University of Queensland received $644 million.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hurley, director of Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, said, “Many universities, like Monash, Melbourne, Sydney and the University of New South Wales, already receive more revenue from international students than from domestic students,”
He added, “International education is an incredibly valuable resource. It is really important that we manage it properly so that it works in everyone’s interests, especially international students.
International students, according to Hurley, provide both students for the country’s higher education sector and employees for Australia’s burgeoning labour market. “We need this workforce,” Hurley said.
As per various statistics, no Australian university could now function without international students, as they pay more than three times the tuition fees than domestic students.
Furthermore, the limits on enrolling students from certain Indian states have also drawn attention to the lucrative business of education brokers, the recruiters who work for Australia’s universities and vocational training institutes, and the exploitation faced by students who are inexperienced and vulnerable.