The Australian government has recently announced significant changes to student visa requirements.
Since 2009, following safety issues that concerned Indian students, Australia had lost its position as a desired overseas destination. But, research by the Australian government in 2010 showed that a high percentage of international students in Australia are satisfied with their academic and living experience. For higher education, students' satisfaction with living and studying was 86% and 84% respectively.
Responding to the concerns, Universities Australia has adopted a 10-point action plan for student safety from recommendations developed by the deputy and pro-vice-chancellors (international) from Australian universities. The plan emphasizes strong law enforcement, plus necessary complementary actions and affirms the crucial importance of international integration through education, among others.
The reforms will ensure that students from India are treated on a par with students applying from the US, UK, Canada and Singapore. Also, the student visa procedures will be less onerous in terms of financial requirements.
Explaining how the changes will be financially less taxing, Fred Hilmer, vice-chancellor and Jennie Lang, pro-vice-chancellor (international), University of New South Wales (UNSW), say, "Indian students will now be graded at the highest assessment level, hence the amount of up-front funds required will be significantly reduced by up to AUD $36,000.
Over 10,000 courses are available at Australian universities including professional degrees, double degrees and postgraduate programmes. Many undergraduate students have the unique ability to undertake an exchange programme of one to two semesters at a partner university in another country.
Currently, over 4,500 Indian students study undergraduate degrees in Australia in many areas including popular disciplines such as business, engineering, science, technology and humanities.
Also, Australian tertiary institutions are diverse. So at one end there are the small, private institutes and state funded TAFE colleges which are basically for vocational training - for chefs, hairdressers, computer technicians, etc; at the other end of the spectrum, says Krishna Sen, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (FAHA), dean, Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, University of Western Australia, you have the Go8 research universities - ANU, Monash, Melbourne, Sydney, New South Wales, Adelaide, Queensland and Western Australia - teaching the range of degrees that you would find in any of the reputed universities of UK or US.
Several of the Go8s have programmes in Asian and European languages and cultures, anthropology and archaeology, while some other Go8s as well as the Australian Technology Network Universities (ATN, includes Curtin, University of South Australia, UTS, QUT, RMIT) offer programmes in media/communication studies, mostly at the undergraduate level but increasingly also at the postgraduate levels.
As far as the academic experience goes, Abhishek Awasthi, pursuing a Master's in biotechnology and bioinformatics from La Trobe University, enjoys attending seminars and interacting with lecturers and mentors from the industry. "My personal aim as the president of the Biochemistry Society is to narrow the gap between students and senior staff, researchers, experts from the sector, creating more opportunities for students to get employed," he says.
Contrary to the Indian academic year, the Australian academic year runs from February each year until approximately November. Divided into a semester pattern, the Australian academic year allows students to enrol in either semester one (from February/March) or semester two (from July/August) depending on course preference.
Australia does not have an affiliated college system, but like India, it follows the Commonwealth system of education, which usually provides the same duration for undergraduate courses. Ideally, applications can be submitted for up to three to five universities, which are the closest match to students' requirements. Students who don't qualify for direct admission may study a university pathway programme, which enables them to strengthen their academic foundation and meet strict entry standards prior to commencing university studies.
According to Rajat Ganguly, Academic Chair, Security Studies Programme, School of Social Sciences & Humanities, Murdoch University, "The strength of the Australian undergraduate system is that most courses are of three-year duration. For engineering and medicine, the duration is slightly longer (four to five years), but one can go straight into these courses after high school."
With the new changes to be implemented from late 2011 --- with the full complement of changes expected to be finalised in the first half of 2012 --- the visa processing time will have significantly improved, thus, allowing students more time to apply, arrange enrolment and accommodation.
Not only will students be eligible to undertake a full degree but they will have the opportunity to remain in Australia to gain international work experience. Graduates with a Bachelor's degree will be able to work up to two years. Those with a postgraduate degree will have the opportunity to work for three years and those with a PhD for four years.
The changes will also allow for a two to four year post-study work visa for university graduates depending on the level of study completed.