The conference, held in Perth and themed Leading the way, saw Australian stakeholders begin considering their next steps for the industry in the face of growing community concerns and increased global competition.
“There are lots of criticisms… most of which are based on a very shallow understanding of the industry”
“Our government believes the benefits of our international education sector should be shared with all Australia,” said the Australian minister for education, Dan Tehan, in an opening video.
“We must focus on the student experience to ensure that we continue to deliver quality education and training to international students.”
Among his key points, Tehan identified sustainable growth and diversification of provider, course and location choice, which he said would Australia’s maintain “competitiveness in international education”.
Addressing concerns around academic integrity, Tehan added quality standards and frameworks needed to remain high and education providers must consistently meet them. There had been one high-profile news story on this topic in the weeks leading up to AIEC.
Tehan also launched the first public overview of agent performance data, over two years after its proposal mid-2017.
Held in Perth for the first time since 2004, AIEC 2019 saw state politics take centre stage, with premier Mark McGowan using his address to announce several key initiatives around employment and work rights which he said would improve Western Australia’s attractiveness to international students.
“[International education is] a volatile market and it requires attention. It’s sensitive to domestic policy settings and perceptions of our jurisdiction,” he said.
“Students aren’t just looking for hands-on learning or great beaches, as important as these things are. They’re looking for somewhere to start their career.”
WA’s graduate migration visa stream initially launched in August 2018, will be realigned with the state’s priority occupation list, and the graduate visa will also be made available to vocational students, McGowan announced.
“[International education is] a volatile market and it requires attention”
The decision to remove WA and Perth from regional status for migration purposes in 2017 was not reversed, however, as many delegates anticipated.
Currently, all of Australia (including its state capital Canberra), outside of five key metropolitan areas, is designated as regional and these areas offer enhanced post-study work rights for international students.
The five non-regional metropolitan areas are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.
McGowan acknowledged the decision’s impact on WA’s ability to benefit from the federal government’s push for regional education, saying that the state government recognised issues around Perth not being defined as regional.
He added discussions were underway with the federal government to find a resolution as soon as possible.
Australia’s international education industry has come under increased scrutiny in the past few months, and WA governor Kim Beazley urged the sector to find ways to engage better.
“There are lots of criticisms… circulating, most of which are very ill-formed and based on a very shallow understanding of what the industry is and what it is up to,” he told delegates.
“But a lot of it would not be there… if it was a common experience in our community.”
The former Australian ambassador to the US and opposition leader added the foster carers that were common under the original Colombo Plan needed to be brought back on a mass scale.
“As educators in and agents of international education, you also have an important role to play in further enhancing the experience of students,” Beazley said.
While focused primarily on inbound students, outbound mobility also featured throughout the conference, with the preliminary results of an upcoming report launched the day before AIEC at the IEAA Research Roundtable.
“We must focus on the student experience to ensure that we continue to deliver quality”
Former education and foreign minister Julie Bishop, who championed the outbound focused New Colombo Plan, said she wanted overseas education experiences to be a “rite of passage” for every Australian undergraduate.
“It is recognition on Australia’s part that we have a lot to learn from countries in our region and that it matters to us to build relationships for the future,” Bishop said on the diplomatic benefits of the program.
“These young people come back with connections, and networks, and friendships that will last a lifetime, and we, the Australian people, will benefit from that because the next generation of Australians will have a much more perceptive understanding of who we are and where we live.”
AIEC 2020 will take place on the Gold Coast, Queensland, from October 13-16.