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Group of Eight proposes special visa for Indian PhDs

Attracting and training talent from India were among the priorities during the Australian Business Week in India 2017 led by Trade Minister Steven Ciobo. The delegation of 170 businesses included higher education and skills training leaders keen to deepen ties with Australia’s sixth biggest export partner.

India, Australia, Group of Eight, Steven CioboGo8 members account for more than half of Australia’s Indian PhD graduates. Photo: Monash University

"We look at Australia when we talk about training our trainers"

Australia’s Group of Eight university consortia used the trip as an opportunity to push for a special class of visa for researchers and PhD graduates.

During a speech to the delegation, Ciobo noted that after the US, Australia is the second most popular destination for mobile Indian students, attracting 60,000 students last year.

“Greater science and research collaboration is central to Australia’s commercial future with India”

“With India’s rapidly rising middle class, many are looking abroad for exciting educational opportunities, and Australia’s education and training systems are well-placed to aid this growth,” he said.

“Greater science and research collaboration is central to Australia’s commercial future with India,” he added.

The Go8’s bilateral task force with India, led by the Go8 chair Peter Høj and director of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Devang Khakhar, laid out action points to enhance both countries’ student and research collaboration agendas, including specific visas for researchers and PhD graduates.

“One of the factors that Indian students considering a PhD overseas look at is their post-study work and career opportunities,” said Vicki Thomson, CEO of the Go8.

Currently, international PhD students can apply for a post-study work visa of up to four years.

But, Thomson argued that, “Restrictions on post-study work rights for international PhD graduates in the US present an opportunity for Australia to improve its appeal for international PhD students by offering a better pathway from PhD study to a career.”

She went on to say, “Even the recent changes to skilled migrant work visas that didn’t directly affect PhD students reportedly had a negative impact on perceptions of Indian students towards Australia as a study destination.”

In April, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull announced the government would abolish the 457 temporary skilled work visa and replace it with a more stringent Temporary Skill Shortage visa in March 2018 affecting some 3,000 researchers and university staff.

In July, however, the government responded to calls from the higher education community to place university lecturers, faculty head and chief executives, including vice-chancellors, on the medium and long-term skills list, while study undertaken during a PhD will account for work experience.

Go8 members, which include University of Adelaide, the University of Sydney and Monash University, account for more than half of Australia’s Indian PhD graduates and have a growing research presence in India.

But Thomson said the countries’ joint research successes have not translated into increased numbers of bilateral PhD student mobility.

“It is eminently sensible for our task force to address this and illustrate to PhD students of both countries what benefits such study mobility can provide to them, and to their national economies.”

“Restrictions on post-study work rights for international PhD graduates in the US present an opportunity for Australia”

Skills training also took precedence during the week as Ciobo noted the “looming demand for skilled workers in India” – the government aims to train hundreds of millions of people by 2022.

“Australia’s excellent vocational education system, including our online capability, can play a significant role in helping India achieve its goals,” said Ciobo.

During the event, India’s Skill Development & Entrepreneurship Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Australian Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills Karen Andrews agreed to improve training collaborations.

“We are looking at benchmarking our certificates with international standards. We also look at Australia when we talk about training our trainers,” said Rudy.

Andrews commented, “Australia’s Indian alumni make a significant and lasting contribution to India’s economic growth – the benefits of which will be felt for generations to come.

“But we can also help support India’s capacity to train its own population onshore and lift its economic growth through closer partnerships in higher education and collaborative research.”

The trade delegation was Australia’s second this year after Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to the country in April promoted the New Colombo plan, skills training and two-way exchanges.

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