Saturday, July 3, 2010

Private college numbers on the rise

ENROLMENTS by private vocational colleges have defied a crisis of confidence in the sector to record 4 per cent growth over April last year.
As the private education sector called for an emergency taskforce to manage the fallout from last year's attacks on students and a regulatory crackdown, Senate estimates heard the embattled private sector now hosted almost 140,000 enrolments.

While the growth is modest by historic standards, it was 4 per cent up on 131,113 enrolments last April, federal education department group manager Colin Walters told the recent Senate education hearings.

The surprising resilience of the sector was reinforced with the revelation the states had recommended that another 59 providers be registered this year, on top of the 100 new providers registered last year.

The surge in new providers was accompanied by the closure of 16 providers last year, 15 this year and another closure displacing 400 students from a Gold Coast college just last week.

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Mr Walters' colleague Tulip Chaudhury said the number of high-risk providers had been estimated by the department at between 200 and 300 colleges.

Some 1241 overseas student-accredited colleges of a total 1290 similarly accredited institutions had so far applied for re-registration under the government crackdown on dodgy colleges.

This meant some 49 such colleges - their risk status unknown - had so far failed to apply for re-registration before the end-of-year deadline for all providers.

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Chris Evans revealed in Senate estimates that a historically large spike in onshore student visa applications had driven a pipeline of 147,000 skilled migration applications.

In the Senate legal and constitutional committee, Senator Evans defended his overhaul of skills lists and integrity measures as necessary to avoid processing 10,000 cooks in the queue ahead of one doctor.

"That is the current system and it has been the system up until now," he said.

"We are trying to get a more sophisticated model rather than just accepting who is in the queue."

Responding to criticism of lengthened visa-processing times, Senator Evans said he would make no apologies as "high rates of fraud and inadequate applications" had been found.

"We will continue to take longer to get it right, rather than get it wrong quickly," he said.

Senator Evans also defended a $13m jump in student visa application revenue to $170m this year.

The increased revenue resulted from a large number of onshore students extending their visas or changing courses, acting first assistant secretary Kruno Kukoc said.

"We are predicting and projecting a significant drop in student visa applications offshore, but the onshore are transferred to another visa and maintain the pace," Mr Kukoc told estimates.

Overall, there had been "a small drop" in the grant rate (from more than 90 per cent to about 85 per cent) of student visa applications from offshore, Mr Kukoc said.

However, there had been a large drop in applications from India, and especially Nepal, "where people effectively were selling taxi driver visas under the guise of trade qualifications in Australia", Senator Evans said.

"That is not to disparage all Nepalese students who came in under the scheme, but Nepal was one of those countries where that racket took hold."

The increased integrity measures had resulted in "high numbers" of refusals and withdrawals of applications, especially from India, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, he said.

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