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Aus: government softens position on regional placement of int’l students

Australian education minister Dan Tehan has wheeled back rhetoric on diverting international students to regional areas during his minister’s address at the Australian International Education Conference in Sydney.

“I want the international student cohort... to have the opportunity to experience a different Australia." Photo: The PIE“I want the international student cohort... to have the opportunity to experience a different Australia." Photo: The PIE

One minister said "smaller states and regional areas are crying out for more people"

Tehan said there was enormous potential to grow international student numbers in regional Australia, saying doing so was “part of diversification” of the international education industry.

“The challenge for Australia is that our population growth is not evenly distributed”

“I want regional Australia to be a greater part of the international education story,” he said.

“I want the international student cohort who come to Australia to have the opportunity to experience a different Australia – to live and study in our regions, to see the bush, to meet people from rural, regional and remote parts of the country and to build friendships.”

Tehan’s comments signal a softening of those made by prime minister Scott Morrison in late September. During an interview, Morrison said his government was looking into a “number of measures” to alleviate infrastructure pressures in Sydney and Melbourne.

At the time, he intimated international students might be included in those measures, concerning industry stakeholders, although there was no policy to indicate whether that would take place through a metropolitan cap or inducements.

Tehan instead asked the industry to consider how to encourage international students to experience parts of Australia outside the metropolitan areas.

“Government can only do so much, and excellence must come from the sector, working in partnership with their local communities,” he told delegates.

“We need to ask ourselves – what kind of future do we imagine for our children, for our communities, and for Australia?”

“The Coalition doesn’t have a clear strategy for managing population pressures in our cities”

The relaxing of the government’s position has come under fire from the Labor opposition, as population growth is becoming an increasingly important talking point before next year’s federal election.

“The Coalition doesn’t have a clear strategy for managing population pressures in our cities,” shadow assistant minister for universities Louise Pratt said.

“I think it’s unfortunate, frankly, that different cultural groups are singled out and targeted with respect to [the government’s] mismanagement of our urban growth.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Pratt called the initial comments from the government a “thought bubble to try and mask over their lack of policy direction” and said while there were infrastructure concerns within her state, Western Australia, they weren’t driven by international students.

“International student populations in the city add a great deal of value to those communities; they grow the economy, they grow jobs,” she said.

“If you were to take them away, [it] would not solve the infrastructure and community service problems in those regions, or congestion.”

The advocacy of Australia’s international education industry appears to have made some inroads within the government’s policy direction, with population minister Alan Tudge unveiling his vision of managing growth in the lead up to AIEC.

“The challenge for Australia is that our population growth is not evenly distributed”

“The challenge for Australia is that our population growth is not evenly distributed,” he said in a speech at the Menzies Research Centre.

“We have very fast population growth in Melbourne, Sydney and South East Queensland. But at the same time, we have the smaller states and many regional areas that have barely grown and crying out for more people.”

While Tudge acknowledged growth in temporary migrant numbers had come primarily through international students and New Zealanders, who have reciprocal visa-free travel to Australia, he stopped short of any policy directive to stem their flow into metropolitan areas.

Instead, he unveiled a four-point plan to build infrastructure, focus on “pinch-points”, encourage migrants to regions, and build up connections between major and orbital cities.

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