Reducing regulatory barriers in the international education sector

The Australian Government is moving to implement changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (ESOS Act) to allow some courses to be offered to international students without being registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). These courses are referred to as supplementary courses and are low-cost, short in duration and allow overseas students to gain pre-requisite industry qualifications that will enrich their Australian experience and also improve their skills and employability, making them less vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace.  Supplementary courses can be undertaken by students alongside their principal course, for which their visa was granted.

Before the changes were made to the ESOS Act, the additional administrative and financial investment needed to maintain CRICOS registration meant few providers offered these courses to overseas students, limiting students' access to training for employment in industries such as hospitality, health and construction.

These changes permit more education providers to enter the market to deliver a wider range of supplementary courses to overseas students and assists Australian businesses to fill short‑term skill shortages to deliver critically important goods and services.

These amendments are made under the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Refunds of Charges and Other Measures) Act 2021.  Specifically, this new Act amends the ESOS Act to enable refunds of registration charges in special circumstances, redefine a course for the purposes of the ESOS Act and enable the Minister to include and exempt certain supplementary courses from the ESOS Act.

The amendments commenced with Royal Assent on 2 March 2021.

The change to the definition of "course" had the effect of exempting non-accredited hobby or recreational courses from coverage by the ESOS Act when delivered by non-higher education providers. The Minister's power to exempt courses from the ESOS Act will be used to create a legal instrument to describe which additional qualifications will be exempted. 

Providers must be aware of and understand the requirements they must meet under the ESOS Act and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Refunds of Charges and Other Measures) Act 2021.

A factsheet on the amendments is also available.

Consultation on the ESOS course exemption instrument

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment is seeking comments to inform the drafting of a new ESOS legislative instrument that will exempt certain courses from the ESOS Act, removing the need for them to registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS). We want to ensure the final instrument is effectively informed by stakeholder feedback to achieve its intended aims.

The proposed exemptions will allow education providers to deliver certain education and training courses without requiring CRICOS registration. The instrument will exempt courses required for employment purposes such as first aid, responsible service of alcohol, construction white cards, hygienic food preparation and infection control. The instrument will also exempt microcredentials, 'hobby' and recreational non-award courses delivered by higher education providers.

The department's consultation paper on the proposed instrument is now available.

Request for comment

The Department is seeking feedback from stakeholders in the international education sector on the proposed instrument. Please use the template provided here to make your submission. You can provide comments to this public consultation process to ESOS-PolicyTeam@dese.gov.au between 22 March 2021 and 5pm AEST 5 April 2021.