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Australia Goes Down Under on student visas
Old 22nd June 2010, 01:59 AM   #1
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Default Australia Goes Down Under on student visas

NEW DELHI:

On June 17, the Victorian police arrested a teenager for the murder of Indian accounting graduate Nitin Garg, an incident in January that triggered an ugly racial row between Australia and India. Significantly, after the arrest, Australian authorities told reporters: “We don’t believe it was racially motivated.” “Victoria Police at all levels are engaging with the Indian community and other communities to assure them that Australia is a great place to live and it is usually a safe place to live.”

Yet, despite the Aussie assurances, many Indian students and workers who plan to migrate overseas this year are giving Down Under a skip. It’s almost certain now that the number of Indian students going to Australia will take a big hit in 2010, and some experts even see a 75% decline. The impact of safety concerns will definitely have a fallout on the overall numbers, says Harmeet Pental, regional director, South Asia, IDP Network, a global education services provider.

Australia has received over 2.67 lakh global student visa applications in the fiscal year to May 31, 2010. The figure represents a fall of over 18% when compared to the record figures of 2008-09. “While application numbers for student visas have fallen, it is important to note we are still receiving large numbers of applications. This decrease is reflected across most of Australia’s student visa markets, including our largest markets in India and China,” says a spokesperson for the Australian High Commission in India.

Indeed, Fall 2010 will be a tad different from previous years. A combination of factors such as stricter immigration norms, changing dynamics in the global job market and incidents of racism in some georgaphies is reshaping the decisions taken by Indian students on overseas education. Some are actually putting their overseas studies on hold for a year or two, despite having got their visas stamped. Many of them prefer to stay back in India and work–at least for now.

Recent changes in Australia’s skilled immigration programme, for instance, will remove incentives for certain foreign students who seek permanent residence after low-quality courses. A new skilled occupations list–which decides on points gained for permanent residence–will require refocusing for some education and training providers. Earlier, the Australian government had made changes to the student visa programme to make sure only genuine students, who have the financial capacity to live and study in Australia, are granted visas.

“The delinking of migration from education and the introduction of an annual skills occupation list has caused uncertainty for students seeking to work in Australia on completion of courses and those looking at possible migration opportunities. Besides, a dramatic increase in the value of the Australian dollar is making education very expensive and not much cheaper than the UK,” says IDP Network’s Pental. In the region, countries such as Singapore are gaining an advantage in attracting Indian students this year. The country has been positioning itself as an educational destination for some years in India and this time, the availability of good jobs, is providing many students with a reason to go there. Singapore has a wide range of world class educational institutions and provides a safe and cosmopolitan environment.

US scores high on safety

Canada, too, has gained in student numbers in the last couple of months with study permit issuances increasing by 100% in 2009 compared to 2008. So far, in 2010, volumes of applications for Canada, and approvals, continue to rise sharply.

But the jury is still out on whether Australia’s loss will translate into a gain in Indian student numbers for countries such as US and UK – the big campus markets. “Our overall rate of student visa issuances has not changed, although the total number of applications, and therefore issuances, is down somewhat from last year. Travel and tuition required to study in the US can be expensive, so the decrease in applications is likely due to the global economic situation. Though the number of student visas is increasing over the last couple of months, we are still down about 21% when compared with last year,” says James Herman, minister counselor for consular affairs at the US Embassy in Delhi.

In trying to analyse the reasons for the flattening out in the number of Indian students going to the US, Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the US based Institute of International Education, which comes out with the influential Open Doors report every year, says that the robust Indian economy is leading to greater employment opportunity in India and hence young people are putting off their decision to study overseas. “However, the US scores very high as a safe and secure campus destination among Indian parents specially when it comes to younger undergraduate students,” says Blumenthal. In fact, while on one hand, US colleges attract young professionals who are giving up their jobs to go and study, there is also rising interest in US undergrad studies and transfer admissions in India. Of course, such interest level has so far not really translated into numbers on the ground.

Meanwhile, the UK, has introduced tougher visa norms for students earlier this year under the points-based Tier 4 system, raising the level of English language required. Further, students studying below degree or foundation degree level courses will be restricted to working for 10 hours per week during term-time (a reduction from 20 hours), with full time employment permitted during the holidays. The UK government has also introduced a strict ‘highly trusted sponsor programme’ for education service providers. While visa issuance figures are not yet available for UK, educational service providers and experts feel that the new rules will see a decline in numbers.

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