AUSTRALIA: Alarm at exploitation of foreigners

The federal government last week vowed to take action against training colleges that breach regulations and provide false certificates for money to foreign students to enable them to remain as permanent residents.

In a ministerial statement in parliament last Tuesday*, Education Minister Julia Gillard warned that Australia could not afford to allow the reputation of its $15.5 billion-a-year education industry be harmed by the actions of some colleges, or by racist attacks on students.

Gillard said the government would scrutinise education providers and review the legislation that covered their responsibilities towards foreign students. She was responding to a series of reports in the Melbourne Age newspaper of alleged rorting at private training colleges and violent attacks on foreign students in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Gillard told parliament a more rigorous method of auditing being applied in Victoria to 16 colleges that posed a high risk to students could form the basis for auditing all education providers in Australia.

"As part of a strengthened compliance regime, we are increasing our scrutiny of education providers. Our focus is to assist them to better understand their legislative obligations, through workshops and other educative material," she said.

"The government will not hesitate to use the full extent of its legislative powers to sanction those that breach the law. Australia cannot afford poor-quality provision of services damaging the international reputation of our education and training."

An edited version of her speech is published in the Features section today. Gillard also said she and Immigration Minister Chris Evans were working on "student integrity measures" to make sure only genuine overseas students came here to study.

With increasing numbers of foreign students from India, China and other countries coming to Australia - almost 500,000 are now in the nation's universities, colleges and schools - new colleges have emerged to offer sometimes dubious programmes with inadequate facilities and untrained teachers.

Some have been accused of exploiting the demand for permanent residency by selling certificates and bogus work experience references which are required before an application can be lodged.