Call to relax online limits on foreign students
Australian universities are in the dark about regulations for delivering courses to international students, after Covid changed its mind about online learning.
Chinese enrollment at Group of Eight universities has increased during the pandemic border closures, indicating a strong appetite for remote delivery. But Australian rules state that foreigners on student visas cannot take more than a third of their courses online, with at least one unit taken face-to-face each term of study.
At the start of the pandemic, the Higher Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa) promised to apply this requirement in a “flexible” way. Provided other standards are met, online delivery ‘would not be a barrier to obtaining an Australian qualification’.
Last November, with Australia’s borders set to reopen, Teqsa announced it would review its flexible approach in mid-2022. But he hasn’t done it yet. A Teqsa spokesperson declined to say when the review would take place or if changes to online delivery limits were being considered.
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The Federal Ministry of Education is also looking at the issue as part of its review of the Education Services for International Students (Esos) framework. A February working paper asked whether online limits should be reviewed, noting that Covid had accelerated “growth and innovation in online delivery” and “underscored the need to embrace new ways of engage with students…to stay globally competitive”.
The final report of the review was due to be delivered to the government in mid-2022, but has not been delivered. The ministry wouldn’t say when the report would be finalized, whether it would be made public, or whether it would recommend different limits for online delivery.
The impasse frustrates university leaders. University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Deputy Vice-Chancellor Iain Watt said the sector needed clarity. He said campuses had experienced a ‘change of mindset’, with those most skeptical of online education ‘now confident’ that it could be as good or better than face-to-face delivery. .
This offered new opportunities for universities, but they had to act quickly. “We need to start developing these products, pathways and relationships now. But we have to do it in complete ignorance of… what the regulatory framework will be,” Mr Watt said.
Online delivery limits do not apply to students studying their entire course remotely without obtaining a visa. But university administrators would like to have the possibility, for example, for students to undertake the first year or two of their degrees in their home country.
“The ability to learn from home, without the expense of coming to Sydney, provides a real option for…international students,” said Shirley Alexander, UTS Deputy Vice Chancellor for Education and Students. .
Andrew Carter, Australia’s education trade commissioner based in Beijing, said Chinese consumers were showing “increasing acceptance and recognition of the benefits of online and blended learning”.
But Karen Welsh, adviser to Australia’s minister for education and research in Beijing, warned that China’s decision to validate foreign degrees issued online was “a temporary measure” during the pandemic. “They’re very concerned about the quality…and the student experience of online learning,” she said.
Claire Field, a higher education consultant, said a “loosening” of limits on online delivery was possible in Australia. “But I doubt it will be a drastic change. Most speakers want to see international students on campus.
Australia’s approach mirrors that of competitors in the northern hemisphere. The United States generally limits foreigners on student visas to one online course per semester, but has relaxed this rule for pre-enrolled students starting in March 2022 and is maintaining this flexibility through the 2022-23 academic year. .
The UK has also allowed foreigners with student visas to study remotely during the pandemic, although this concession ends on June 30, with student visa holders required on campus from July.
However, Canada places no restrictions on online delivery for international students and has dropped rules prohibiting fully online students from qualifying for post-study work permits.