Boris Johnson’s proposal to reintroduce post-study work visas in the UK could have the unintended consequence of forcing Australian universities to shorten their Masters degree programmes. A key selling point of UK universities is the opportunity to complete a Masters degree in a year, rather than two years, as is standard in most other parts of the world.
In recent years, Britain’s success in recruiting international students has been held back by the absence of an attractive post-study work offer. But the prime minister’s plan to offer foreign students two years of post-study work rights will change this and international education advocate Phil Honeywood says this might force Australia to look hard at whether it can continue to run two-year Masters degrees. “Changes of duration may be required,” Honeywood told the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)conference in Melbourne. “I’m just putting it out there. I’m talking from a global competitive perspective.”
The observation reflects the sometimes seesawing nature of higher education policy. Shorter Masters courses had been commonplace in Australia until a 2011 review recommended that post-study work visas should only be made available to graduates of two-year Masters. “Immediately, all of our public universities switched to two years,” Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, told Times Higher Education.
“The argument now would be (that) if we’re to be competitive, we need to go back to potentially having a one-year Masters. How that works out in terms of squeezing enough units of study to make it academically appropriate is going to be a battle we have to face. But if the UK can have one-year Masters then I don’t see why Australia cannot. Pedagogically, if we used to have one-year Masters, I don’t see why we can’t go back to it,” he says.
Some fast-track Masters still exist in Australia, and the regulator TEQSA scrutinises outcomes rather than study duration. However, time-consuming regulatory approval would be required for major changes to existing Masters programmes, such as reduced duration. However under current Australian legislation, post-study work visas are only available to people who have been in the country for at least 16 months and studied for at least two academic years.
(Excerpted and adapted from The Economist and Times Higher Education)