2009 Submission: Inquiry into Income Support for Students Bill 2009 and Rural and Regional access to Tertiary Education Opportunities

Coming Soon

Attachment: CAPA Report

Authors: Ekaterina Pechenkina and Nigel Palmer

The attractiveness of Australia as a destination for international students is finally being recognised as an issue of national importance.  Australia has had a charmed run on the growth of international enrolments over the last 10 years.  The time has come for Governments both State and Federal to reciprocate through investing in the quality of the international student experience, and in reforms to help ensure Australia remains a preferred destination for international students.

Federal Responsibilities

In having oversight of the Australian higher education system, the Federal Government has broad responsibilities in support of quality, equity and sustainability, and this extends to the aspirations, expectations and safety of international students.  There are also issues like Australia’s international relationships and knowledge capital capacity at stake.  While some areas of responsibility are indirect, and may take some time to respond to positive reforms, opportunities do exist for the Federal Government to act immediately to help ensure Australia remains a preferred destination for international students.  The comparatively high cost of obtaining and renewing an Australian student visa is just one example.

Student visa application costs: Selected OECD Countries

Country Visa Type Student visa fee ($AUD)1
New Zealand Study Permit $130
US F1, J1, M1
+ SEVIS I-901
Canada Study Permit $140
EU2 Student Visa $120-$180
UK Student Visa $322
Australia Higher Education
(subclass 573)
Postgraduate Research (subclass 574)

1 All amounts shown in Australian Dollars (July 2009). 2 EU costs vary by country – consulate pages are a useful preliminary resource in confirming actual costs.

Australia currently has the least competitive student visa application costs among key OECD education destinations.  The non-refundable fee of $A540 fares poorly against the UK at $A312, and the majority of comparable destinations levying an average of only $A130.

Even with additional costs Australia still comes last.  The United States requires all applicants to pay the $250 SEVIS I-901 fee to the US Department of Homeland Security.  Other additional costs include fees for medical examinations, and in some cases vaccinations, which can easily run to $300 per person for international students who seek to apply or renew from within the destination country.  The Australian student visa application process requires a thorough medical examination of all applicants and their dependents each time they apply for or renew their visa (regardless of whether or not they have travelled internationally during their stay). This places a particular burden upon international students studying here with dependents.

The Federal Government need not be fatalistic about the attractiveness of Australia as a preferred destination for international students. Reform of the exorbitant student visa costs, and the unnecessary financial and administrative burden placed on students, offers just one example of the kind of simple, practical measures the Federal Government can take which would have an immediate and direct positive effect.  Now, clearly, would be a good time to act.

Responsibilities of Australian States and Territories

State and Local Governments have managed to remain “under the radar” when it comes to their responsibilities in support of international students, yet they have quietly managed to reap the rewards from the extraordinary growth in this area.

Public School Tuition Fees for Dependents of
International Students Enrolled in Higher Education Courses

State Course/Level Annual Fees (AUD)*
South Australia Primary (Years 1-7) 3,600
High School (Years 8 -12) 4,500
New South Wales Primary (Years 1-6) 4,500
Junior Secondary (Years 7-10) 4,500
Senior Secondary (Years 11-12) 5,500
Tasmania Any course/level 5,500
Western Australia Kindergarten 3,000
Primary (Years 1-7) 5,600
Junior Secondary (Years 8-10) 6,500
Senior Secondary (Years 11-12) 7,500
Queensland Prep Year 8,000
Primary (Years 1-7) 8,000
Junior Secondary (Years 8-10) 8,000
Senior Secondary (Years 11-12) 8,800
Victoria* Primary (Years1-6) 6,790
Junior Secondary (Years 7-10) 8,998
Senior Secondary (Years 11-12) 10,053
Northern Territory Primary (1-6) 7,500
Middle (7-9) 9,000
Senior Secondary (10-12) 10,000
Australia Capital Territory Primary (Years K-6) 9,500
Junior Secondary (Years 7-10) 12,000
Senior Secondary (Years 11-12) 13,000

* All amounts shown in Australian Dollars (July 2009).

International postgraduate students frequently express concerns about the financial burden associated with supporting school-age dependents at school.[1]  The recent House of Representatives Inquiry Report, Building Australia’s Research Capacity, supports a national public school fee exemption policy for dependents of all international postgraduate research students.[2]

South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales stand out as preferred destinations for international students with school-age dependents, in offering the most affordable primary and secondary school fees.

Queensland and Victoria outrank NT and the ACT in being the only states to offer public school fee waivers for dependents of all international research students.  There is no discount offered in the ACT or Northern Territory for the dependants of international students enrolled with a higher education provider.

Concession Travel on Public Transport

It is an indictment on the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria, with educational exports at $5.8 and $4.9 billion dollars respectively, that they continue to refuse international students the same public transport concession entitlements enjoyed by their domestic peers.  New South Wales and Victoria get a free ride on export revenue from international education while the international students themselves pay double.  If state and local governments want to continue to enjoy the substantial benefits from the export of education, it is well and truly time they owned up to their responsibilities in support of international students.

Topping the list as a preferred destination for international students on transport concessions is the Northern Territory.  Students at Charles Darwin University and the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education enjoy the nation’s fairest arrangements for concession travel on public transport.  Postgraduates, international students, part-time and externally enrolled students all have access to concession travel simply by presenting a current student ID.  Concession fares are also available to tertiary students visiting from interstate, marking the Territory as the most student friendly destination in the nation.

Other preferred destinations for students include Flinders University, UniSA, The University of Adelaide and The University of Tasmania.  Concession travel is available to full-time students in South Australia and Tasmania on presentation of a current student ID. South Australia also welcomes visiting tertiary students who are currently enrolled interstate.  Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT fare well, with most postgraduates and international students enjoying full access to concession travel.

New South Wales and Victoria rank lowest for access to student concession travel, with Victoria taking the wooden spoon for completely excluding all postgraduates and full-fee paying international students from access to concession travel.

Australia has yielded substantial economic, social and cultural rewards from the growth in international student numbers over the last 10 years.  The time has come for Governments both State and Federal to demonstrate their commitment to supporting international students through practical measures, including:

  • Reducing Australian student visa application costs so they are at least as affordable as comparable destinations for international students
  • Making public school tuition fees for dependents of international students more consistent and affordable across all Australian States and Territories, allowing fee waivers wherever possible  
  • Allowing all tertiary students access to concession travel on public transport, regardless of their location, residency status or the type of course in which they are enrolled

[1] Schooling costs also include school uniforms, school activities, administrative fees (often in the range of $400-$500), and public transport costs (New South Wales and Victoria are the only states to deny concession fares on public transport to school-aged dependents of international students studying in Australia).

[2] House of Representatives Committee on Industry Science and Innovation (2008). Building Australia’s Research Capacity (Final report of the House of Representatives Inquiry into Research Training and Research Workforce Issues in Australian Universities).  Parliament of Australia, Canberra, ACT. December 2008: www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/isi/research/report.htm. (p.103).  Recipients of AusAID, IPRS or comparable awards covering the full cost of the education component of their degree are exempt from state/territory school tuition fees for dependents.  Private school tuition fees for dependents of international students are generally double those for domestic students, as private schools rarely discount fees for those enrolled in a tertiary degree.