In the backdrop of stringent visa rules and security concerns of international students in Australia, there has been a slide in the overseas student enrolments specially in the field of vocational training and English language.

The federal data has shown a declining trend in the international students enrolments. However, at university level, enrolments recorded small increase, according to a report published in ‘The Age’.

Enrolments in vocational courses were down 20 per cent on April 2010, and in the English language field enrolments dropped 21 per cent, according to official data.

Weakest areas for enrolments were witnessed in courses like hospitality and hairdressing where visa changes have hit hardest.

This has forced the educational institutions to press the government to ease student visa requirements.

International education system stood at USD 19 billion dollars to the Australian economy in 2009—10.

The review of the system, led by former New South Wales parliamentarian Michael Knight, has received 200 submissions from across education and business.

Council of International Students has sought for lifting the cap on the number of hours students are allowed to work.

It has called for a relaxation of the 20—hour maximum allowable work hours, as well as a reduction in the cost of visas and the amount of money students must have in the bank to qualify.

The council has also asked government to increase the length of a student visa to one—and—a—half times the minimum course duration, that would allow a student enrolling in a three—year degree to stay four—and—a—half years to complete their studies.

Similar calls for greater flexibility and lower fees are echoed by industry bodies including International Education Association of Australia, which represents education providers.

The association has asked the government to speed up visa application processing time and bring visa costs into line with competitor countries, including the US and Canada.

Association director Dennis Murray said the government must act to counter negative public perception of International students that were damaging Australian reputation.

The Knight review is scheduled to report back to government in the second half of 2011.

In higher education — predominantly universities — enrolments rose by 2.7 per cent on April last year, but university chiefs are planning for a decline in 2012, with the number of students enrolling in ‘pipeline’ courses that lead to university study dropping.

Meanwhile, as a part of the changes to Australian general skilled migration program, the department of Immigration and Citizenship has announced that it will add and remove a number of occupations from the Skilled Occupation List (SOL).

The changes to the SOL are made following advice and recommendations made by the independent Australian immigration body, Skills Australia.

In its updated form, the new SOL will feature 192 occupations and will be used to determine which applicants are eligible for independent or unsponsored skilled migration.