Inquiry into Australia's Trade and Investment Relations with North Africa

Inquiry into Australia's Trade and Investment Relations with North Africa

Inquiry into Australia's Trade and Investment Relations with North Africa

Submission to Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, August 2005. Submitted by Dr Andrew Vincent, Director, Centre for Middle East and North African Studies, Macquarie University President, NSW Chapter, Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Introduction
The export of education has become Australia's fourth largest export industry. With the declining student numbers from China and South East Asia it is imperative that Australian educational providers find new markets for full fee paying international students. The alternative is a return to the old system of ever-greater government funding for the higher educational sector. North Africa is a potentially lucrative but largely unexploited market for student recruitment. Several significant obstacles prevent the full realization of the potential of this market.  

The Problems
The major obstacle is the classification of all student applicants from the countries of North Africa as Category Four by the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).  This classification makes it all but impossible for students to meet the stringent requirements required to obtain a visa. Students from Libya for example, who are fully funded by the Libyan Government, are routinely turned away.

My own university provides a further example.  Three years ago Macquarie signed a student exchange agreement with the English speaking and American run al-Akahawayn University in Irfan, Morocco. This is very much an elite institution, attended by some members of the Moroccan royal family.  We sent several of our students to Morocco with very positive results, but last year the agreement was cancelled by the other side, as none of al-Akahawayn's students nominated to study at Macquarie had been able to obtain visas.

Macquarie's Vice Chancellor Professor Di Yerbury wrote to DIMIA Minister Vanstone on 20 April 2004 (letter appears as Appendix 2) requesting a special sub-category in the visa regulations to lower the threshold criteria and enable students from al-Akahawayn to meet less prohibitive processing criteria, closer to Category One or Two. Two months later the Vice Chancellor received an off-putting reply not from the Minister herself but from a mid-level DIMIA functionary who failed completely to address the issues she had raised (see Appendix 3).

The second problem relating to student visas from the countries of North Africa is a purely administrative one. All North African student visa applicants must go through the Australian Embassy Cairo, even though visa-issuing posts in Madrid, Paris, Rome and Malta are often closer and more practical. Morocco for example is over five hours flight from Cairo and political tension between several of the North African countries make the postal services between them unreliable.  

The Solutions

DIMIA has based its country risk assessments on a statistical analysis of student overstay rates. When it comes to the countries of North Africa, the statistical base from which these assessments are drawn is so small as to be unrealistic.

Some years ago a similar policy applied to the countries of South America, where all applicants were seen as Category Four, had to apply through the post in Santiago.  Grudgingly DIMIA was persuaded to ease the categories and permit visa issue at different posts. South America is now a thriving market for Australian student recruitment.

To ease the situation with regard to students from North Africa I would recommend that the following measures be taken.  I would note in passing that these measures in no way detract from Australia's legitimate security concerns about visa applicants from the Middle East and North Africa:

  • Government sponsored students (i.e. those whose fees and living costs are borne by their own government) should also be regarded as Category One or Two. 
  • A subcategory in the visa regulations is established to lower the threshold criteria and enable exchange students from certain nominated universities to meet less prohibitive processing criteria, closer to Category One and Two. 
  • Administrative regulations should be changed to allow student visa processing to be undertaken in Australian Missions in France, Spain, Italy or Malta as well as in Egypt.

Andrew Vincent (Dr.)

 

APPENDIX 1: North Africa - Student Statistics

1. International Students Enrolled in Australia, NSW and Macquarie University (TOTALS, ie 2+3)
 North Africa Sem 1 2003 Sem 2 2003 Sem 1 2004 Sem 2 2004 Sem 1 2005
Australia

155

136

182

165

193

New South Wales

97

74

111

90

120

Macquarie

2

1

3

2

2

Market Share

1.3%

0.7%

1.6%

1.2%

1.0%

Source: IDP, Calculations for Market Share made with information from IDP

 

 

2. International Students Enrolled on Australia, NSW and Macquarie University (ONSHORE)

 North Africa Sem 1 2003 Sem 2 2003 Sem 1 2004 Sem 2 2004 Sem 1 2005
Australia

100

107

128

130

120

New South Wales

47

49

59

64

56

Macquarie

2

1

3

2

2

Market Share

2.0%

0.9%

2.3%

1.5%

1.7%

Source: IDP, Calculations for Market Share made with information from IDP

 

 

3. International Students Enrolled on Australia, NSW and Macquarie University (OFF-SHORE)

 North Africa Sem 1 2003 Sem 2 2003 Sem 1 2004 Sem 2 2004 Sem 1 2005
Australia

55

29

54

35

73

New South Wales

50

25

52

26

64

Macquarie

0

0

0

0

0

Market Share

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

Source: IDP, Calculations for Market Share made with information from IDP

 

4.  (Higher Education, 2004)

MEC - International Students from North Africa in Australia

 

North Africa   2003 2004
 Algeria   

6

4

 Egypt   

77

77

 Libyan Arab Jamahiriya   

44

53

 Sudan   

6

8

 Tunisia   

8

6

 Morocco   

7

11

   

 

 

Total

 

148

159

Source: AEI PRISMS (2004)


APPENDIX 2: Letter from Di Yerbury to Minister Amanda Vanstone

 

04/351

20 April 2004 

Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
Suite MF 40
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT 2600

Dear Minister,

As you may know, Macquarie University is becoming one of the most internationalized universities in Australia.  We have a steady stream of students from around the world coming to our beautiful campus, and a large number of our own students traveling abroad.  Macquarie students are able to take advantage of our many student exchange agreements with sister universities and, with the help of Macquarie Travel Grants, undertake courses for a semester or two which count toward their Macquarie degrees. 

We are unique among the universities in Australia in having an exchange agreement with al-Akhawayn University in Irfane, an American-run English language university in Morocco.  We have already sent several of our students to Morocco, and would like to send more.  Unfortunately our Moroccan partner university has been unsuccessful in obtaining visas for any of their students to spend a semester here at Macquarie, and as a result wish to cancel our agreement. 

Although Morocco is Category Four in the Student Visa regulations, the handful of al-Akhawayn students who would come to Macquarie on exchange are of the highest possible calibre.  They are from elite families, speak fluent English, and their bona fides are beyond question. 

I am writing to you now to see whether it would be possible to make a sub-category in the visa regulations to lower the threshold criteria and enable exchange students from this particular university to meet less prohibitive processing criteria, closer to category one or two.  I am confident that if this were done, we could maintain our agreement, and a healthy flow of students would continue to flow in both directions to the mutual benefit of all.

Yours Sincerely,


Di Yerbury,
Vice-Chancellor

 

APPENDIX 3: Letter from DIMIA to Di Yerbury

MEC - Letter from DIMIA to Di Yerbury pg1

MEC - Letter from DIMIA to Di Yerbury pg2

 

 

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