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Australia: Birmingham backs strategy themes, underlines trade ties

Australia’s new government will push ahead with plans laid out by the previous administration to grow the country’s international education sector with even more zeal and enthusiasm, as evidenced by the minister for education and training’s address to the Australian International Education Conference in Adelaide last week.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham at the AIEC conference in Adelaide. Photo: The PIE News.

“I can tell you from my discussions in China and Korea the value that those governments place on knowing that the Australian government is doing more to support Australian students to act in a reciprocal way"

Minister Simon Birmingham reiterated the priorities of the draft international education national strategy released by his predecessor Christopher Pyne in April: quality, employability, technology and improved student experience.

Birmingham also linked the importance of free trade agreements in the region to the success of Australia’s industry and said the government aims to secure similar deals with India by the end of the year.

“Our focus on international education is real,” Birmingham said, highlighting the sector’s A$3bn growth in two years to A$18bn.

“International education makes a massive contribution to Australian society, to our culture, to our international standing and to our economic prosperity,” he said. “It provides huge benefits to all students and their communities. It must be sustainable in a two-way mutually beneficial arrangement for it to succeed into the future.”

“Our focus on international education is real”

Referring to the themes of the draft international education strategy, Birmingham said newly introduced indicators for learning and teaching would ensure quality in the sector.

He recognised the importance of employability for international graduates, calling for greater collaboration with business and industry and encouraged the acceptance of technology driven modes of teaching “to ensure our institutions are responding to the change that is coming at them with great pace”.

He also pointed out the success of the New Colombo outbound mobility plan which will have supported 10,000 students to work and study across 28 locations in the Indo-Pacfic region by the end of next year.

“I can tell you from my discussions in China and Korea the value that those governments place on knowing that the Australian government is doing more to support Australian students to act in a reciprocal way by learning and studying in their nations,” he said.

After the government received 120 written submissions to the strategy during public consultation and hosted two roundtable discussions attended by ministers and more than 200 participants, Birmingham said he expects to see it finalised by the end of the year.

He also announced that all the peak bodies representing the sector had signed the London Statement which is the latest development in the government’s project with IEAA to create an agent quality framework.

“By getting employability, quality and ethics right, international students can become strong advocates for Australia when they return home,” he argued.

The ministerial shake up saw the creation of a new tourism and international education minister, taken up by Richard Colbeck, who will assist the minster for trade and investment. The new position shows the government’s clear linkage of trade ties and international education exports both at home and offshore.

“International students can become strong advocates for Australia when they return home”

Birmingham told delegates that Colbeck is international education’s “champion in the ministry”.

“His task and remit is to work across the trade portfolio and the education portfolio, with Andrew Robb [minister for trade and investment] and myself to ensure we have a comprehensive approach and coordinated approach of the government to make most of international education opportunities in the future.”

Free trade agreements signed in 2014 with China, Korea and Japan have already resulted in successful outcomes for offshore education including the addition of two Australian sino-foreign joint venture programmes added to China’s ministry of education’s list of approved providers in August he said.

Agreements with the 12 countries in the Trans Pacific Partnerships will also open up “an array of opportunities” for education services offshore, he added.

Meanwhile Birmingham said it was the government’s top priority to secure a closer economic cooperation agreement with India by the end of this year.

“India’s prime minister Modi has set a staggering goal of upskilling 500 million Indians – a task that is in many ways beyond comprehension for a country the size of Australia but equally is a demonstration of the immense opportunities there are for Australia to both enjoy more Indians studying in Australia and simultaneously expand the delivery of training opportunities by Australian service providers in India into the future.”

He also endorsed Austrade’s Australian International Education 2025 development strategy that aims to double the number of international students studying in Australia to one million and increase offshore enrolments to 10 million over the next decade.

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