Experts warn Labor's proposed cap on international students could cause “chaos”. 

A new bill, introduced by Education Minister Jason Clare, aims to set a maximum number of new international student enrolments for courses and providers. 

The bill links the capacity to enrol more students with the availability of new purpose-built student accommodation. 

A similar cap for the VET sector would be determined by the skills and training minister.

The introduction of this legislation follows a significant increase in international students in Australia, from approximately 580,000 before the COVID-19 pandemic to 700,000 in February. 

Clare argues that these changes are necessary to ensure that international education delivers maximum benefit to Australia and maintains its social licence.

Labor's goal is to reduce net annual migration to 260,000 by 2025, largely by controlling international student numbers. 

However, experts have strongly criticised this approach.

Andrew Norton, a professor of higher education policy at the Australian National University, says the cap is the most radical limitation on student choice and university autonomy he has seen. 

In a recent blog post, Norton highlighted the broad ministerial discretion granted by the bill as a significant problem, creating new legal territory in the higher education sector.

The bill allows the minister to cancel international enrolments for providers or courses due to systemic quality issues, limited value to Australia’s skills needs, or public interest concerns, such as student exploitation. 

Institutions exceeding their caps could face a year-long suspension from enrolling new students.

“The level of ministerial discretion is unprecedented,” he said. 

“The mere possibility of their use changes the government-university relationship.” He added that the proposed course level caps fundamentally conflict with principles of student choice and university autonomy.

Former immigration department deputy secretary Abul Rizvi has labelled the cap as a “recipe for chaos” that could lead to university closures if not managed effectively.