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Australia: MP blasts country’s international education governance

Despite its recent successes, Australia’s commitment to international education has been “sluggish at best” and the level of funding allocated to administer its national strategy “pathetic,” according to an Australian MP who worked within the sector prior to his political post.

Education and Training minister in Australia Simon Birmingham rebuffed Hill's accusation.Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham rebuffed Hill's accusations. Photo: Universities Australia

"There have been six or seven acting or permanent general managers in the last two years alone"

Julian Hill, member for Bruce in Victoria and part of the opposition Labor party, made the remarks during a reading in parliament of the recently passed Education Services for Overseas Students (TPS Levies) Bill 2017, taking aim at several areas within Australia’s international education industry and the Liberal/National coalition government.

“Broadly speaking, the commitment to the international education sector in Australia is bipartisan in spirit,” he said.

“Despite the stated commitment and broad sense of bipartisanship, the effort in the last couple of years can be described as sluggish at best.”

Hill, who before taking office worked as executive director of international education in Victoria, said instability within the Department of Education and Training meant Australia was not achieving its potential.

“I’ve heard a number of reports of growing frustration across the international education sector both from peak bodies and also providers about the musical chair, the revolving door, that is the general manager position of international education in DET,” he said.

“There have been six or seven acting or permanent general managers in the last two years alone. In one sense, it is quite impressive that any legislation made it here with that level of chaos, but it’s actually quite a serious matter too and the [education and training minister Simon Birmingham] needs to sort this out.”

Hill did not identify who had provided that feedback.

In his address, Hill also labelled the National Strategy for International Education 2025 unexciting and unambitious, claiming it was “too general” and “should be more targeted and specific in what it is trying to achieve.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Hill said his comments were meant to contrast what he saw as the stability of the Tuition Protection Scheme implemented in 2012 with perceived instability and ineffectiveness within the governmental administration of Australian international education.

“Stability in policy development and stability in administration are important,” he said.

“You’ve got to have a balance between letting people move around, but you need some degree of continuity and expertise and stability to do good policy development and to do good delivery.”

Hill singled out former international education minister, Richard Colbeck, whose portfolio was consolidated into Birmingham’s education portfolio during 2016’s protracted election period.

Hill also claimed ministerial participation within the National Coordinating Council had been low

“For five minutes, under the previous government, he was the world’s first international education minister,” Hill said.

In his final statements of a speech that otherwise supported the proposed changes, Hill also claimed ministerial participation within the National Coordinating Council, which was set up to help develop and implement the national strategy, had been low, despite earlier promises that it would bring together industry and government stakeholders.

“The National Coordinating Council, which this government put in place, is a great initiative and I applaud it,” he said.

“Of course, it is only as good as its attendance — I don’t think ministers have been taking this seriously.”

Birmingham, however, told The PIE News that Hill’s comments were not based in the reality of Labor’s record on international education, saying that during the last Labor government, international student numbers dropped by nearly 100,000.

“We’re the first federal government to develop an international education strategy and just recently we backed 14 innovative projects to help strengthen and grow the sector,” he said.

“We have also introduced Provider Integrity measures through Parliament to ensure the continuing quality of our third largest export for the years ahead.

“[The government’s] higher education reforms boost investment in the sector with the right policy settings in place to ensure it is sustainable and continues to foster the excellence and innovation that underpins the outstanding global reputation of our higher education and training providers.”

Australia’s international education industry has continued to move from strength to strength, surpassing previous economic record last financial year to reach $24.1bn.

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