QSP: I am the International Education Group Manager and oversee Australian operations and the offshore education network for Australia’s trade and investment development agency the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade).
The PIE: How big is that offshore network?
QSP: Austrade is represented in 92 locations across 52 countries. We have three clusters of markets: one in established Markets in North America, Europe and Japan; a second in East Asian Growth Markets – South East Asia and North Asia; and the third in growth and emerging markets – the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and South Asia.
The PIE: How did you get involved in this role?
QSP: In my previous role I represented the Australian Department of Education in New Delhi and Beijing for nearly eight years. On 1 July 2010 responsibility for the international marketing and promotion of Australian education moved from the Department of Education to Austrade and I joined the organisation at that time.
The PIE: Did the move to Austrade dovetail with the industry’s problems [running into slowdown etc]?
We’re looking to help raise recognition by employers of the value of Australian qualifications
QSP: In 2010 we dealt with the repercussions arising from problems with Indian students in 2009, and a small number of high profile college closures. Also, the strength of the Australian economy saw a stronger Australian dollar, so some of the current issues were longer-term in development.
The PIE: The Australian industry seemed well supported and well regulated [to us in the UK] so were these problems a surprise?
QSP: The international education sector was growing very rapidly. Between 2002-2011 the annual growth rate was 17% compound; that meant that the number of student enrolments went from 275,000 to 550,000. With such fast growth came some issues over our regulatory framework.
So the Government initiated the Baird review in 2009 to look at governance arrangements that reflected current conditions in the sector.
The PIE: Was it the wrong operators or the wrong sort of students that was the problem?
QSP: Neither. We had some good operators who found that their circumstances had changed and business was not sustainable.
The PIE: Wasn’t it the case that the VET [vocational] sector saw a lack of regulation?
Institutions in some cases formed a business model based around a flow of students that did not materialise or was not sustainable. I wouldn’t single out the VET sector, we have a strong mix of public and private VET operators and our international sector is extremely competitive.
Students seeking post-graduate work opportunities are not necessarily seeking permanent residency
The PIE: How is Australia reacting to this downturn in terms of overhauling visa policy?
QSP: In 2011 the Australian Government initiated a review of its student visa programme. The review was undertaken by Michael Knight, the former New South Wales Sydney Olympics Minister. He came up with 41 recommendations which were all accepted by the Government – his tenets were ‘how to balance integrity in our student visa system and remain internationally competitive’.
The PIE: I know work rights in Australia have become more widely available..
QSP: Knight found that students seeking post-graduate work opportunities are not necessarily seeking permanent residency. What he recognised is that they often want to take advantage of work opportunities in Australia to develop their CVs and gain valuable work experience. [more>>]