Experts have warned that the newly announced uncapping of work hours for international students in Australia could have major long-term ramifications for the country’s higher education industry.
Stakeholders are apprehensive that the decision will have a compounding effect on Australia’s universities’ pedigree and internationally recognized status as a country by providing some of the greatest university education in the world.
CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, Phil Honeywood, emphasized that this abrupt policy shift had not been preceded by dialogue with the distressed international education sector. He claimed that it ignored the “nation’s emphasis on world-class academic outcomes.”
“Crucially, this change of policy may inflict lasting damage on our hard-won reputation as a quality-focused study destination,” warned Honeywood. He agreed that permitting international students to work 20 hours per week had many advantages for different stakeholders but emphasized that it was initially intended for “course-related employability” only.
Students’ studies and jobs would be in sync, which would assist them to secure future career paths. He stated that, in the face of the pandemic’s numerous hurdles, business Australia has clearly pressed the panic button.
The bill would assist international students who need to work additional hours to sustain themselves, as well as safeguard international students from “workplace abuse” and “paying lesser salaries.” It might also boost the employability of overseas students.
However, CISA has been “calling for the lifting of work hour constraints” for international students for some time and has handled multiple “consultations with the government and other stakeholders,” there is a need for “support measures” and “checks and balances” to ensure that the students stay on track with their research findings.
“We have not got [the issue] right just yet,” Oscar Zi Shao Ong said. “There needs to be a better system in place… [and] expectations need to be made clear to students.”
“We welcome in principle any opportunity for international students who wish to take advantage of relaxed visa rules and consequent working flexibility,” Universities Australia deputy chief executive Peter Chesworth said.
Despite the problems that overseas students have encountered throughout the pandemic, the freedom for students to seek employment if they so wish is ultimately beneficial.
Furthermore, Chesworth emphasized the critical need of ensuring that students are not considered as a disposable solution to solve labour shortages and that they work under the same terms and safeguards as domestic employees.
Although employment is vital for many overseas students, the reasons they pick Australia in the first place go beyond job opportunities. Along with its world-class universities, lifestyle, and reputation as a safe country, Australia is a widely sought-after destination for international students.
Universities Australia also “urged consistency,” citing the 130,000 plus overseas students who “had been waiting anxiously to return to Australia while international borders were closed for nearly two years.”
According to Angela Lehmann, Head of Research at The Lygon Group, the announcement of the temporary relaxation of the 40-hour-a-fortnight restriction is being widely debated online by international students. The shift has elicited a range of emotions and sentiments among overseas students.
A few students are ecstatic about the changes and see it as an opportunity to work full-time. Prolonged working hours in front-line sectors increase the danger of exposure to Covid-19, according to Lehmann, who adds that students are curious about the procedures in place to assist their health and welfare if they catch the condition.
Several students and graduates see the changes as a chance for students to be exploited because they may not be able to refuse shifts/hours. As businesses have previously stated, corporate Australia has every cause to be delighted with the federal government for moving rapidly to supply them with a supplemental workforce through the employment of international students.
Working hours relaxation is likely to influence students differently, with some students considering it more possible to come to Australia, while others will prefer to keep their working hours to a minimal.
Furthermore, there is a risk that Australia will be perceived as advocating for international students to be placed in high-risk, unsafe employment at the price of producing genuinely work-ready graduates.
The government must take care not to undervalue international students’ potential to contribute to Australia’s long-term skilled workforce in the eyes of the Australian public by enacting policies that place students as a “stand-by” workforce for dangerous and low-paying occupations.
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