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Author Topic: Language Requirements Harken Back to the White Australia Policy

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Language rules lift bar for sector
Bernard Lane From:The Australian November 17, 2010

UNIVERSITIES now have a "potent incentive" to redesign their course offer so international students graduate with a professional level of English.

Monash researcher Bob Birrell was commenting on last week's announcement of a new points test for skilled migration, under which professional English has become the de facto standard.

A pathway to permanent residency as a skilled migrant has been a significant part of the appeal of Australian qualifications in the overseas market.

Glenn Withers, chief executive of Universities Australia, said local universities had long been "a leader in language instruction and testing".

He said the new rules for skilled migration were an opportunity for institutions "to move to even higher value-added through advanced segments of language training".

But Dr Birrell, whose research has helped inspire a series of reforms weakening the link between migration and the education industry, said universities had been outflanked by the willingness of the Immigration Department and professional bodies to embrace a serious standard of English proficiency.

"Quality assurance [in education] just ignored this issue, still does," he said.

Under the old points test, a sub-professional score of six on the International English Language Testing System attracted points. Now, an IELTS score of six wins no points, the professional level score of seven functions as a new de facto threshold score and for the first time a superior English score of eight wins extra points.

John Findley, a veteran education counsellor and migration agent, said the new emphasis on superior English looked like an exercise in racial discrimination.

He likened it to the use of European language tests under the old White Australia policy.

"If English is not the first language - you may read non-white - it is unlikely the applicant will make the cut," Mr Findley said.

He cited IELTS data showing that only native English speakers (41 per cent) had a double digit chance of scoring eight or higher.

At this level of proficiency, the success rates for those with other first languages were single digit: Chinese (2 per cent), Hindi (6 per cent), Spanish (5 per cent ) and Arabic (2 per cent).

Dr Birrell said he supposed universities had resisted the testing of international students at graduation for professional level English because it would have been embarrassing to have many fail.

In 2006-07, 45 per cent of mainland Chinese given skilled migration visas as accountants trained by Australian universities could not manage an IELTS score of six. China is Australia's top market and the biggest grouping of internationals is in management and commerce courses.

An Immigration Department official acknowledged that research such as Dr Birrell's 2006-07 study was part of the reason the new points test weakened the monopoly status of Australian qualifications and recognised overseas degrees.

This, together with more points for overseas work experience, would give offshore applicants for skilled migrants "a bit of a leg up", an official said.

On-shore international students had been the drivers of the independent skilled migration category. Now, demand by employer-sponsors drives skilled migration, making independents a residual category with a sharply reduced number of places.

Dr Withers said he was worried the new high skills independent category would be "crowded out" by the low skill employer-nominated category, which was not subject to a points test.

He said a reformed student visa that allowed up to three years of related work experience would be enough for many international students. This also would enable those keen on permanent residency to "bridge the gap" to employer sponsorship.

At another level, a new focus on advanced skills in the independent category and a linked relaxation of age rules would help universities recruit foreign postgraduates to replace the retiring generation of baby boomer academics, Dr Withers said.
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Reverend Cailen Cambeul, P.M.E.
Church Administrator, Creativity Alliance
Church of Creativity South Australia
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