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Minister For Home Affairs Clare O'Neil at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman

International student cap legislation announced

The Albanese government will this week announce legislation to cap the number of international students individual universities are allowed to enrol per year, among other measures.

However, the cap will not be completely rigid, allowing universities to negotiate a higher cap if they commit to building new student housing for both domestic and international students.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil has been slowing down student visa processing since December, after the government announced its new migration policy that aims to cut the number of migrant students entering Australia.

The policy tightened student visa rules and raised the required level of English language competency, which hit private, vocational colleges – some of which exploited international students – the hardest.

Monash University, Melbourne University, the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney – Australia's five biggest institutions – are still enrolling high numbers of international students, and have argued against a hard cap.

Universities are also concerned that current restrictions are affecting Australia's reputation as a country that provides quality education to overseas students.

But, Education Minister Jason Clare said the rules, outlined in a draft international education framework, will support the sustainability, quality and integrity of Australia's international education offerings.

Mr Clare and Ms O'Neil met with the International Education Council and university leaders on Monday morning to discuss the new legislation framework, which also includes:

  • Capping the number of foreign students institutions can enrol over a particular period of time.
  • Preventing education providers from owning education agent businesses
  • Pausing enrolments to both international education providers and providers of new courses for 12 months to assess their legitimacy
  • Cancelling dormant provider registrations
  • Requiring new providers to demonstrate a quality track record to domestic students before they can begin enrolling international students
  • Prohibiting providers under serious regulatory investigation from recruiting new foreign students
  • Banning education provider agents from making commissions off students who transfer between institutions or providers (an incentive that fuelled the actions of many shonky operators pre-crackdown)

The government noted international students are an important part of the Australian economy. Overseas students have brought $26bn into Australia this year.

The peak body for universities, Universities Australia (UA), said ministers mustn't forget the impact international student funds have on the sector.

"Decades of careful and strategic work by universities and the Government has seen Australia grow to be a leading provider of international education. We can’t let this work go to waste," UA chief executive Luke Sheehy said.

"International education supports our foreign policy objectives, fosters greater international collaboration and is a major economic driver for the nation.

"The sector contributed $48bn to the economy last year, accounting for over half of Australia’s economic growth and supporting the vital work our universities do on behalf of all Australians."

The federal government is expected to address immigration numbers in general, along with its rental and housing crisis effects, in the budget to be released on Tuesday.

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