By Stephanie March
More Indian students are applying to Australian universities in hope of a better quality of education.
The number of students from India applying to study at Australian universities has more than doubled over the past year, largely because they want a quality education not just a pathway to permanently migrate to Australia, industry representatives say.
The number of higher education visa applications lodged by students in India to study in Australia rose from 1,987 to 4,148 in the year to September 2013.
Student visa applications from India fell sharply in 2009 after the closure of bogus colleges, tightening of visa rules for vocational courses and a number violent attacks on Indians in Melbourne.
In the years since, the Australian government streamlined the visa process for foreign students wanting to study in the higher education sector.
Australian universities are also offering more scholarships to people from overseas.
“They have done a fantastic job at rebuilding that image that undoubtedly was dented,” Rhian Thomas, group vice president at The Chopras education services company in New Delhi, said.
Growing Indian middle class
It’s not just Australia that has changed in recent years.
India’s growing economy has pulled hundreds of millions of people into the middle class and has given them the means and the drive to pursue higher education.
“Students are no longer just going to Australia seeking permanent residency, they are actually going there to get a quality education,” Ms Thomas said.
While the standard of Indian universities varies, many offer poor quality courses – for example of the half a million students who graduate from engineering degrees in India each year, only 20 per cent have the skills to be employed in the sector.
Ms Thomas says while many students may not want to study in India, they do plan to move back there eventually.
“You will also find a very large segment of the Indian student population who are looking to go overseas and then go on looking to just get one or two years work experience before coming back and implementing those skills either in the family business… or use those skills in some other way, shape or form in their career here in India,” she said.
Difficult to stay back
For students who do hope to settle permanently in Australia, it can be a difficult process.
Foreign students now have the right to stay and work in Australia for two years after finishing their course.
After those two years they must go through the difficult process of finding an employer to sponsor them to stay or they must leave the country.
“Employer sponsorship is very problematic,” Phil Honeywood, national executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, said.
“There’s a high cost involved, you have to deal with a migration employer often, so the paperwork for employers is very complicated,” he said.
He says in some sectors there is also a financial disincentive for employers to hire foreign students.
“There is a situation in which the minimum wages and the minimum salaries for many occupations, be it aged care worker or be it as a marketing officer, are much higher [for foreign students] than what the award rate is here in Australia,” he said.
Media and communications student Sahil Saini left New Delhi for the University of Melbourne two years ago because he wanted to study at a high ranking institution.
“Honestly when I was planning my studies, I wasn’t thinking about the permanent residency there,” he said.
“Now that I’ve been there, I like the place. I really like it because it is very neat and very clean, very organized, less traffic and I think I really want to get settled there.”
Mr Saini says he knows it will not be easy to find a way to settle in Australia long-term.
“I think I will have a little problem in terms of getting [permanent residency] because I think my course doesn’t offer [it],” he said.
“Maybe I will have to find a sponsor for myself so it’s a big road ahead and I’ll see how it goes.”