The Australian government has announced a $53 million support package for international education providers in the country hardest hit by Covid-19.
The $53.6m package is targeted at English language and non-university higher education providers. The government has said it aims to encourage providers to “refocus” business models on Australian students and expand online and offshore course offerings.
“Our international border closures have been our single best defence in keeping Australians safe from Covid-19, but have obviously meant no new international students coming to Australia,” said minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge.
A total of $26.1m has been allocated for an extra 5,000 short course places in 2021-22, in order for non-university higher education providers to attract more Australian students, the government said.
A further $9.4m will be used to start an innovation fund that will offer grants of up to $150,000 for 182 private ELICOS and private higher education providers to grow offshore and online delivery.
About 1,200 private international education providers will also benefit from $7.1m in administrative savings as they will no longer be required to report the receipt of fees each month, the government suggested.
The measures will support providers to maintain “as much capacity as possible” before international students are welcomed back “when conditions allow”, Tudge claimed.
He recently indicated the government will consider a quarantine proposal for international students to Victoria “carefully & cautiously”.
“Many non-university providers have seen revenue decline very sharply and without some support, they may close or lose serious capacity,” Tudge said.
“The package is measured and targeted at those who need it most while borders are closed.”
English language teaching sector body English Australia noted that “a welcome package of action [had] been announced”, but highlighted the support is not enough.
“I recognise the quantum of support is much less than what our sector needs, but equally the package comes from considerable effort over the past few months,” said English Australia CEO Brett Blacker.
“It certainly doesn’t mean that our advocacy work will cease rather that we will only work harder to ensure our members and the sector receive further support.
“We continue to work on plans to bring our students back and provide services that support our members during these challenging times from professional development to member input on the future direction of ELICOS.”
The body has previously suggested that official government figures do not accurately show the dire situation the ELICOS sector is in.
February government data suggests that English language providers have seen a 67% international student enrolment decline, while universities have seen a 12% fall, stretching to 17% at non-university higher education providers. Some have seen declines as high as 70%.
The $9.4m for innovation grants will “encourage providers to take advantage of growing domestic student numbers and deliver more education online to international students offshore”, Tudge continued.
“As uncertainty continues around the return of international students, it is becoming even more critical to stimulate domestic education markets through these kinds of competitive neutrality measures that support student enrolments,” said Independent Higher Education Australia CEO, Simon Finn
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia praised the government for several initiatives for which that the body has been advocating, including additional short course places and the continued exemption of the higher education student loan tax.
“[The package] comes at a critical time as the sector continues to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic,” said ITECA chief executive Troy Williams.
“The extension of TEQSA and ASQA regulatory fee relief for a further six months is something that ITECA has been a strong proponent of and will help release the cash flow that is critical for independent higher education and vocational training providers to support jobs within their businesses,” Williams said.
A $17.7m injection will extend the pause on fees and charges Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and Australian Skills Quality Authority until January 1, 2022.
“The continuation of government assistance through fee relief will support sustainability for the VET sector and its recovery post-pandemic,” minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert suggested.
The regulatory fee waiver will “come as a huge relief for all IHEA members and providers across the sector”, Finn added.
“Now more than ever before, providers need to be focusing their resources – both financial and non-financial – on ensuring they continue to deliver a high-quality student experience,” said Finn.
“Waiving regulatory fees will particularly benefit the small and niche providers who continue to grapple with the impacts of Covid-19 on the tertiary sector.”
TEQSA chief commissioner Peter Coaldrake welcomed the continuation of waiving a range of TEQSA fees and charges until the end of the year, as the agency released a consultation paper outlining our proposed approach. The consultation will run until 3 June 2021.
Some 30,000 existing and prospective students will also be provided FEE-HELP loan fee exemptions until the end of the year.
The support for the international education sector is critical as there were 494,806 primary student visa holders in Australia back in March 2020 and this had dropped to 317,940 in April 2021, ITECA added.
The government added that the support package builds on its $47.5m reduction in regulation costs in 2020, a year when it provided an extra billion dollars in research funding to the university sector as well as 30,000 more places.
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