Note: Australia-Pacific Technical College

Written by Stephen Howes

We are starting a new category of blog posts to supplement our longer, daily feature posts. Notes will be much shorter posts, scheduled on demand.

In a recent Centre for Global Development blog post, Owen Barder puts forward some promising migration-for-development initiatives, highlighting, among others, the Australia-Pacific Technical College (APTC) which, he says “is financed by Australian aid to train workers in its poor neighbouring countries (such as Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu) so that they can work in Australia.”

If only this were the case. A 2011 Australian National Audit Office report [pdf] found that only 40 or 1.7 % of APTC graduates had found work outside their home countries. The report goes on to inform us that APTC course profiles have now been decoupled from Australian visa requirements, and that “local labour market demands are more central to the focus of training.” (p.90) The report also raises concerns about value for money, noting that the cost per student is as high as a scholarship to Australia (p.92).

The APTC, a 2005 initiative, was certainly meant to increase labour mobility. What went wrong has never been publicly explained, and would make a good research topic. The Audit Office suggests that the labour mobility aims of the APTC aroused suspicion among regional governments who tended to view the colleges as a way to hasten the exodus of already skilled workers.

Whatever the reason for its failure to achieve its labour mobility objective, the Australia-Pacific Technical College unfortunately cannot be hailed as an example of a successful pro-development migration policy.

This note is a part of a series on the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program. Other blogs in the series can be found here.

Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre.

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Stephen Howes

Stephen Howes is the Director of the Development Policy Centre and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School.


  • What Joseph Cheer mentioned here is right. Working holiday visa should be given to Australia’s backyard; Pacific Islands ! What is Australia Government trying to do ? Cleaning up America and Europe’s mess ? What a big shame!

  • Dear Stephen and Wesley,

    I thought I would add a little more to what has already been said. I had an intimate involvement with the project so will only make general comment.

    In my mind, the project was conceived (as Wesley points out) as a response to Pacific Island governments wanting greater access to the Australian labour market for their citizens. The Australian government were never going to agree to this so to appease PIC, created APTC instead.

    The qualifications gained are vocational in nature and the chances of Pacific islanders qualifying to migrate are slim at best anyway. Nevertheless, a scheme that is a brain drain on PICs already facing skills shortages is nothing short of expedient and abhorrent. Building their capacity then shifting this to Australia or NZ is anti-development in my mind, notwithstanding the possible flows of money back to the islands.

    I feel the direction that the APTC has taken is a valid one. Perhaps a scheme similar to the AusAID Development Scholarship scheme requiring at least two years service at home before being eligible to migrate is appropriate.

    As for labour mobility schemes, I find it curious that the Australian government gives young European, and American working holiday makers (or backpackers for want of a better word) far greater access to the Australian labour market then Pacific Islanders. I would’ve thought it would be fitting to see it the other way around i.e. privileging islanders critical livelihoods above funding the travel of backpackers.

    In closing, I doubt the Australia Government was ever serious about giving islanders access to the Australian labour market. Australia’s immigration policy is still inherently biased against immigrants from developing countries, especially the Pacific Islands who are considered high risk of breaching visa conditions.

    Keeping skilled Pacific Islanders at home will have a far greater development impact then having them migrate to Australia which is self-serving for Australia, and somewhat disingenuous because this would bring into question the idea of this being nothing then another form of “boomerang aid”.

    PICs need sustainable industries at home and this can only be achieved if their skilled citizens stay at home. Any development program targeted at poaching skilled islanders is nothing short of selfish, serving Australia’s needs only at the expense of island countries.

    The APTC program should privilege PICs and their citizens, and assist their development, not fill Australia’s skills gap. It is a program worthy of long term support but must be depoliticised and undertaken in a spirit of generosity and not self-serving to Australia’s needs. Of course I am assuming (perhaps naively) that aid of this nature has nothing but good intentions – depoliticised and focused on building the capacity of PICs so that they become less reliant on Australia and NZ and have more assured futures.

  • Hi Stephen,

    In 2005 the Australian cabinet rejected a senate committee proposal for the establishment of a pilot-scheme for Pacific islanders to undertake seasonal work in Australia. At the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ meeting in Moresby that year John Howard announced this decision, but also announced the establishment of the APTC.

    As I understand it then, the APTC was announced in response to pressure for regional labour mobility. Howard argued that a better way to help Pacific states would be to ‘assist them to skill their workforces to Australian standards’ ( Clearly the point being that they might then migrate to Australia to seek employment opportunities.

    However, following the decision to establish the APTC, Australia and New Zealand have established labour mobility schemes for semi-skilled Pacific labour. In this context perhaps the APTC shifted focus to meeting local labour market demands in the Pacific instead, and the political impetus for a ‘labour mobility objective’ has declined.

    I think discussion/debate about the future of the APTC is very important. I’d be keen to see if any representatives from the APTC have an opinion on this?

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