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Pacific Islands push for more uni students in Australia

Esther Linder -

Going to university in Australia could become simpler for Pacific Islanders if they are considered domestic students.

The high commissioner for Samoa, Hinauri Petana, told federal politicians the crippling cost of international student fees in Australia was curbing educational outcomes in her nation.

"Our appeal is that, by all means, international rates should stay for who can afford it, but for the Pacific we'd like to see our own private citizens to send their children here at the same rates," she told a public hearing into education and tourism in the Pacific this week.

"Australia has been one of the leading countries in the world in terms of education."

Greater investment and assistance would help her nation in developing its own education sector, Ms Petana said.

Australia hosts nearly one million international students each year with most hailing from China, India and Nepal.

Pacific Islanders make up less than one per cent, with 7000 to 8000 people on student visas.

Yves Lafoy, representing New Caledonia, floated the idea of a set number of people that could be considered domestic students.

"We back the concept of a quota of Pacific students to benefit from Australian fees," Dr Lafoy told the hearing.

A ballot visa for Pacific Islander nations was established by the Labor government in 2023 and from late 2024 will allow 3000 people per year to receive permanent residency if they've been offered an ongoing job in Australia.

People studying on the Pacific Engagement Visa will pay domestic fees and will be able to access Commonwealth student loans as well as Youth Allowance and other benefits.

Luke Sheehy, chief executive of Universities Australia, said scholarships from individual universities and other educational programs were all options for students from the Pacific to come to Australia.

"These are terrific and often transformative initiatives, and further consideration given to encouraging and supporting more students abroad to receive an Australian education would be welcome," he said.

Long wait times and exorbitant visa costs for Pacific Islanders wanting to visit Australia were also holding back integration in the region, the committee heard.

'It is very difficult, even to come be a tourist in Australia," Ms Petana said.

'You have to show your sponsorships, you have to show your bank account, all kinds of things."

Samson Vilvil Fare, the high commissioner for Vanuatu, also spoke in support of easing Australia's visa requirements on Pacific Island visitors.

Complicated paperwork and frustrating wait times meant people were often delayed or may not end up coming to Australia, he said.

Esther Linder - AAP

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