In a move aimed at tackling increasing concerns over visa fraud, Federation University in Victoria and Western Sydney University in New South Wales have instructed education agents to cease recruiting students from some Indian states. The ban includes Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the universities' decision, highlighting the surge in rejection rates for Indian applicants and the need for tighter regulation of education agents.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, rejection rates for Indian applicants across all Australian universities have reached their highest level in a decade. Approximately one in four applications is now classified as either "fraudulent" or "non-genuine." This increase in rejections has coincided with a significant rise in the number of applications, prompting calls for stricter oversight of education agents responsible for arranging visas for international students.
Federation University, which currently enrolls around 5,500 international students out of its total student population, sent a letter to education agents outlining the ban on student recruitment from the above mentioned states of India. The university stated that it had witnessed a substantial increase in the proportion of visa applications being rejected by the Department of Home Affairs, indicating a concerning trend.
Similarly, Western Sydney University also informed education agents that they should no longer recruit students from Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat due to a high attrition rate among Indian students who had recently enrolled in courses. The university noted that the ban would be effective immediately for at least two months. Additionally, Western Sydney University plans to implement stricter admissions conditions, changes to application screening, and increased commencement fees to address the issue of non-genuine students from these regions.
While these measures are aimed at protecting the integrity of the institutions' international student programs, they reflect a broader concern within the Australian education sector. Several other universities, including Victoria, Edith Cowan, Torrens, and Southern Cross, had previously paused recruitment from specific Indian states earlier this year. However, Wollongong and Flinders Universities modified their entry processes for overseas students from "high-risk" countries but did not restrict enrollments from specific Indian states.
The surge in applications from Indian students, coupled with the rise in visa fraud concerns, has prompted the federal Department of Education to acknowledge the existence of unscrupulous behaviour in the international education sector. The Department is particularly concerned about inducements offered to students to move from universities to more affordable vocational education providers. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare emphasised the importance of treating all students fairly and appropriately during the application process, regardless of their nationality.
The Department of Home Affairs revealed that Australian universities are currently rejecting 20.1% of applications, up from 12.5% in 2019. The rejection rate for applications from India stands at 24.3%, the highest since 2012. Education agents play a crucial role in facilitating applications to Australian universities from international students, with universities and colleges paying them commissions for each enrollment arranged.
The issue of fraudulent agents and providers exploiting students has prompted calls for better regulation. Critics argue that the current system lacks the means to effectively remove bad agents from the system, allowing them to continue their practices unchecked. Efforts are underway to address these concerns, as various reviews of the immigration system have recommended improvements to prevent misuse.
The ban on student recruitment from specific Indian states comes at a time when Australia is on track to receive its largest annual intake of Indian students across universities and vocational courses, surpassing the previous record set in 2019.