While Australia has traditionally been a target destination for university students, the number of international students enrolled in primary and secondary schools has increased by 14% in the last year. Schools that enrol overseas students under the age of 18 have additional obligations to ensure child safety.
To provide guidance to these schools, the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) has released Guidelines for the Enrolment of Overseas Students Aged under 18 (Overseas Guidelines). The Overseas Guidelines will commence on 1 July 2018; a very important date for schools as they will also need to be compliant with the new National Code for Overseas Students (National Code) and the VRQA Guidelines to the Minimum Standards (Minimum Standard Guidelines).
In response to rising complaints by overseas students, Australia prioritised the importance of preserving its reputation as an international destination for education. In response, the new National Code was passed and places obligations on educational institutions providing services to international students. In particular, Standard 5 of the National Code relates to underage overseas students. It states that if the student is not staying with a relative, the education provider must provide appropriate accommodation, support and general welfare.
The previous VRQA Guidelines on Homestay Accommodation for Overseas Students (Homestay Guidelines) lacked comprehensiveness and only consisted of three guidelines. Therefore, the new Overseas Guidelines were released, consisting of eight guidelines which clarify the requirements for education providers and align with the new Code and updated Child Safety Standards.
What are the Overseas Guidelins?
The Overseas Guidelines will replace the Homestay Guidelines. The key changes are outlined below.
Child Safe Standards
The Overseas Guidelines require education providers to comply with the Child Safe Standards as set out in the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005 (Vic). This includes, but is not limited to:
- Ensuring any adults involved in providing accommodation, welfare or support to the student has a valid Working with Children’s Check (WWCC) or Police Check;
- Having processes around reporting child abuse in line with mandatory reporting requirements; and
- Providing age and culturally appropriate information to students in accordance with the relevant state/territory requirements.
If an underage student is not staying with a relative, the education provider must ensure that the student is at least 13 years of age (unless the student will be living in a boarding facility which is owned by a registered school). The education provider must issue a Confirmation of Appropriate Accommodation and Welfare (CAAW) letter to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This education provider will then be responsible for ensuring appropriate accommodation, support and welfare (as per Minimum Standards for Student Accommodation below) for the student and ensuring that any third parties providing these services comply with the Child Safe Standards. The education provider will not be able to delegate, outsource or contract out these responsibilities.
Education providers must also provide all underage overseas students with a Student Safety Card which includes the education provider’s details, a 24/7 contact number, emergency numbers, homestay details (if relevant) and a statement that the education providers is registered with the VRQA.
Education providers will be required under the Overseas Guidelines to train support staff and student coordinators who interact with underage students. They must receive training on:
- Child Safe Standards;
- Policies and procedures for managing emergency situations and critical incidents and ensuring that the student’s accommodation is appropriate for the student; and
- The National Code, and the new Guidelines, including any additional guidelines or amendments as issued from time to time.
Minimum Standards for Student Accommodation
Education providers responsible for providing accommodation must ensure that the accommodation is appropriate for the student’s age and needs. For example, providers need to ensure that they have in place appropriate processes for screening accommodation such as homestay or boarding school facilities. This will include ensuring the accommodation staff or provider has a valid WWCC, and verifying the suitability of the accommodation. In particular, homestay arrangements require the provider to ensure the student has their own bedroom, regular biannual checks to ensure suitability, and a site visit to assess appropriateness.
Impact on Education Providers
Schools which offer their services to underage overseas students need to be compliant with the Overseas Guidelines by 1 July 2018. Most schools are likely focusing on implementing the National Code and VRQA Guidelines to the Minimum Standards and should incorporate compliance with the Overseas Guidelines into their changes.
We recommend that schools take the following next steps.
- Make a board level decision on whether the school will market itself to underage international students and if so, if the school is prepared to accept enrolments from students who will require the school to provide appropriate accommodation, welfare and support.
- Review your child safety policies and procedures, including hiring processes and WWCC requirements, and amend if necessary to ensure it captures the requisite child safety requirements of the new Guidelines.
- Implement documented processes for verifying that the accommodation is appropriate for each underage overseas students and reminders for six-monthly screenings.
- Ensure your boarding school house (if relevant) is compliant with the Australian Standards Association (ASA) Standard AS 5725:2015 Boarding Standards for Australian Schools and Residences.
- Train support staff and student coordinators as required by the Overseas Guidelines, incorporating training on the National Code and Minimum Standard Guidelines.
How we can help
Moores can assist with your governance requirements, from conducting governance analysis, through to policy development and training.
We are experienced in working with schools and the education sector, with particular focus on practical and commercial approaches to regulatory complexities.
For assistance with reviewing your policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the Overseas Guidelines, please don’t hesitate to contact us.