19 October 2011

Another bureaucrat blames students for program failures

Kruno Kukoc is First Assistant Secretary, Migration and Policy Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Last Friday he gave a speech to the Australian International Education Conference in Adelaide.

No doubt Mr Kukoc is a first-rate public servant, but as such he is not speaking his own mind anyway. What he says is the official view. And the official view is simply this: none of this was our fault, it was all down to those sneaky students who had no interest in getting an education for its own sake. They just wanted permanent residence.

Sadly, I suppose, very few people in the real world want an education for its own sake. For most it is a means to an end. It is also not a rare thing for people to choose what to study on the basis of their future prospects. Choosing a course of study on the basis of the long-term advantages it might bring you is neither illegal, fraudulent nor even unreasonable.

For most of this century, Australia has actively sold education to overseas students as a path to permanent residence. Mr Kukoc observes that there was an explosion in the VET sector of colleges offering courses for occupations on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL). Were those colleges acting outside the law? Absolutely not, in fact they had to go through a government approval procedure under the Education Services for Overseas Students Act. Was there something illegitimate about the MODL? No, it was set up and controlled by Mr Kukoc's own Department. How did these students go about getting permanent residence after their studies? They applied for visa classes created, by Mr Kukoc's own Department, exclusively for the purpose of allowing overseas students to apply for permanent residence.

The resulting mess had to be cleaned up, I agree. Too many of the VET colleges were visa factories with no real educational foundation whatsoever. The immigration program was being swamped by applicants with inadequate qualifications in areas not really wanted by the economy. So far, I agree with Mr Kukoc.

But where is the blame? Mr Kukoc criticises the MODL, but seems to imply the government he represents had nothing to do with it. He seems surprised that all those thousands of students really wanted to get permanent residence, but doesn't seem to remember that visa subclass 885 was designed, by his Department, exclusively for overseas students to apply for permanent residence within six months of finishing their studies in Australia.

Mr Kukoc probably doesn't get to see them. They come to my office every day. They are mostly around my daughter's age. They, or rather their parents, bought something the Australian government was selling, or at least knowingly allowing to be sold, and now they are being accused of not being "genuine temporary entrants". They never thought they were, they were never required to be, that wasn't the product that was advertised when they bought it. Their lives are in a mess now as they wait to see whether the product their parents really paid for will ever be delivered. Mr Kukoc has a nice job in Canberra.

Who's to blame, really?

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