Category Archives: Migrants and migration

Should New Zealanders be entitled to Australian student loans?

Although tough measures against refugee boat arrivals sometimes give the opposite impression, Australian migration rules overall are about as liberal as they have been since federation. We have multiple uncapped long-term although often temporary visa categories including New Zealanders, 457 work visa holders, international students, and working holiday visas. At the end of 2014, there were nearly 1.4 million people in the country on these visas. Only a small number of people seem to be really thinking through the implications of such a large number, although ad hoc issues come up regularly.

One of these is the status of long-term New Zealand residents of Australia in Australian higher education institutions, a subject mentioned in today’s Australian. Contrary to what the article says, New Zealanders are entitled to subsidised places in Australian public universities, as Australians are in New Zealand universities. However, New Zealanders are not entitled to the HELP student loan schemes, and therefore must pay their student contributions or fees up-front. Australians can borrow in New Zealand if they have lived there for at least three years.

The available statistics don’t tell us exactly the scale of the issue, but in 2013 there were 16,400 New Zealand-born people enrolled as ‘domestic’ students and 16,400 full-time equivalent students paying undergraduate student contributions up-front because they were not entitled to HECS-HELP. There is a bit of coincidence in the numbers as the latter figure includes permanent residents from other countries, while the former number includes postgraduates. But many New Zealanders who have been in Australia for much of their lives, went to Australian schools, talk with Australian accents, and consider themselves Australian for most purposes will nevertheless be paying upfront.

The policy intent behind this rule is reasonable enough. It’s one of several measures designed to ensure that people unlikely to be paying taxes in Australia, and therefore unlikely to repay HELP loans, don’t get to borrow (although it raises the question of if they are not going to stay, why give them any support at all?). But it is out of alignment with the social reality of many of the people it affects.

This has been recognised by the government, and they have an amendment that would allow New Zealanders who have been here ten years or more to be eligible for HELP loans. Unfortunately it is embedded in the ill-fated Pyne higher education reform package bill, and so unlikely to pass the Senate. It’s another reason why we need a three bills strategy to get higher education policy moving again, with this amendment going in a Budget measures bill.

It’s also worth noting that this would have been much less of an issue in the first place if we had measures to collect HELP debt from people living overseas. There are already signs that Australia and New Zealand are moving to assist each other in getting student debt repaid. If international repayment mechanisms were in place, we could have a more integrated Australia-New Zealand higher education market with short waiting times on student eligibility.

Overseas student reforms bad for higher ed market design

Declining international student numbers prompted the government to commission a report from former NSW politician Michael Knight, and his report was released today. The government has accepted his recommendations.

Most of Knight’s recommendations are sensible. But his report would also lead to a visa system that is biased in favour of universities at both ends of the course of study: in a easier process for getting a student visa, and for a new two-year work right after completing the course. This would put non-university providers at a significant disadvantage.

Coming on top of the government’s decision to uncap Commonwealth-supported places for public universities, letting them compete more strongly against private providers and TAFEs offering degrees, and to lift the FEE-HELP debt surcharge from 20% to 25% for undergraduate courses, I could see why the non-university higher education sector could come to the conclusion that the government is trying to put them out of business.

I don’t think the government is trying to wipe out the non-university higher education sector; rather this situation is the result of an ad hoc approach to policymaking, with decisions made without adequate consideration of their systemic consequences.

Though Knight correctly observes that there have been more migration-related problems in the vocational sector than in the universities, I could not find any evidence that the non-university higher education institutions were particularly prone to taking students who broke visa conditions (especially compared to the universities at the cheap end of the market, attracting students from poor countries with the strongest reasons to want to stay in Australia). There was a discussion of the difficulties in setting rules institution by institution, but not for different classes of institution.

An effectively functioning higher education market in Australia requires – to use the now cliched metaphor – a more level playing field. International students are important to building economies of scale in the non-university sector, and making those institutions more able to take on the universities in the domestic market. So Knight’s recommendations, and the government’s apparent acceptance of them, are a setback to good market design in both domestic and international markets.

According to the polls, the public both supports and opposes offshore refugee processing

The Australian public don’t want refugee boats to keep coming, but other than that it’s pretty hard to work out what they think. Earlier this week, new polling from both Nielsen and Essential Research was published on what to do with boat arrivals.

The questions were slightly different, but the results were opposite: Nielsen find a majority for onshore ‘assessment’, while Essential find a majority for offshore ‘processing’. I would have thought the questions were getting at the same thing, but perhaps respondents did not think so, or there was some other issue with the polls.

But to me this looks like at least a very significant minority of people have no clear opinion on the policy details.


Essential question: Thinking about the issue of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat – do you think they should be processed in Australia or should they be sent to another country for processing?
Nielsen question (inferred from table in Age print edition): Asylum seekers arriving by boat should be … allowed to land in Australia to be assessed/sent to another country to be assessed/sent back out to sea/other or don’t know.

Does the public support sending refugees to third countries?

If asked whether asylum seekers arriving by boat should be turned away, most Australians have always said yes (Murray Goot and Ian Watson have a useful summary of the polling here, from p.28). But in another example of the hard to follow public opinion on the issue, if the choice is between processing asylum seekers in Australia and sending them to another country, their choice seems to be processing in Australia.

A Nielsen poll published in the Fairfax papers yesterday found a small majority in favour of processing here, and only 28% in favour of sending refugees to a third country.



Earlier polls
found a similar pattern of opinion, if the costs of the Malaysia deal were explained.

I can’t recall any polling directly on the Howard government’s ‘Pacific solution’, but politically it was generally seen as a success. Or maybe questions about the means of stopping the boats don’t matter much. If the goal is achieved, discomfort at the means will be overlooked.