International student enrolments frozen – but why?

International student enrolments frozen – but why?

Last week, a notice was circulated by the Victorian Education Department to the state’s public school principals, instructing them not to accept any further enrolment applications from international students beyond this year.

According to the document, the cap of 5,750 foreign students is decided by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) and cannot be increased unless the authority works with state and federal governments to increase or decrease the cap.

Currently, the state’s schools enrol 5,500 international students, but a cap of 5,750 international student enrolments has been set by the VRQA as part of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) legislation framework.

The email sent to Victorian public school principals said that due to the popularity of the international student enrolment program, the enrolment cap for Term 3 2019 would likely be exceeded if further applications were approved.

“Accordingly, we are not in a position to accept all students who would like to study in Victorian government schools in 2019,” the email stated, adding that all recent standard student applications with a commencement date of 2019 are being asked to defer their study period to Term 1, 2020.

However, Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, said that with the number of international students wanting to study in Victorian government schools exceeding projections this year, he has sought “urgent advice on how to ensure that more can be welcomed to study at more schools in Victoria next year and beyond”.

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, said that in light of the Minister Merlino’s statement, Victorian principals are now hearing “two completely different responses” from the state and federal ministers as to who implemented the cap.

“On one hand, we have the email from the Minister saying that the cap was the Federal Government’s call, and on the other we have the Federal Government saying the cap is recommended by the VRQA,” Grossek told The Educator.

“So, if the VRQA can only make recommendations, who actually implemented the cap? Someone somewhere doesn’t have their story straight.”

Grossek said that Victorian public school principals are “once again the meat in the sandwich” that is a funding issue for schools.

“Minister Merlino’s belated call for the VRQA to increase the cap is welcome, but one wonders what role government does in fact play in determining such an important policy decision in the first place,” Grossek said.

“I would think that from within our system, the cap on international student enrolments would be on a school-by-school basis, because some schools would have no capacity to take enrolments and other schools would have this capacity.”

Grossek said other Ministers would be puzzled by the cap that has been put in place, especially in the lead up to a federal election.

“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense in terms of meeting the needs of local students ahead of international students, because you shouldn’t be taking international students if you don’t have spare capacity in the first place,” he said.

While the Victorian Education Department’s email stated that any increase or decrease in system-wide enrolment cap for international students in Victoria is set by the Federal Government, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training denied this was the case.

“The Commonwealth Department of Education and Training has not told Victorian Government schools to stop enrolling international students, nor has the capacity for those schools been reduced,” the spokesperson told The Educator.

The VRQA, as the Designated State Authority under the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000, recommends to the Australian Government Department of Education and Training a total international student capacity for all Victorian government schools (the school system) as a whole.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training said the Australian Government accepts that recommendation and includes the total student capacity as part of the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) registration for Victoria’s government schools.

"This registration is then administered for individual schools by the Victorian Department of Education and Training," the spokesperson told The Educator.

"If the Victorian Department of Education and Training wishes to adjust their CRICOS international student capacity they need to apply directly to the VRQA."