The draft also hints at an enhanced visa policy that could see the streamlined visa processing scheme– which puts the responsibility of visa approval in the hands of providers– evolve into a slimmer, more cost-effective system.
The country’s international education sector is experiencing a vibrant come-back since steep decline after 2009. In 2014, it hosted the highest number of international education students in history allowing the sector to make a $16.3bn contribution to the national economy.
“The benefits of international education extend beyond being a mainstay of our economy”
Maintaining international education’s position as a key export industry is the driving motivator for the strategy released for public consultation by the Minister for Education and Training, Christopher Pyne, today.
“With many traditional industries under pressure, Australia is well placed to harness the knowledge boom, meet international demand for education and prepare people for professional jobs globally,” he said.
“But the benefits of international education extend beyond being a mainstay of our economy. International education nurtures cross-cultural networks in our region and strengthens our institutions across teaching and research. On top of that, international students bring enormous benefits to our economy, cities and towns.”
Six goals are laid out in the policy categorised under three pillars: “getting the fundamentals right”, “reaching out to the world” and “staying competitive”.
Christopher Pyne, Minister for Education and Training, announced the strategy today saying “International education is one of Australia’s greatest under-the-radar export success stories”.
Improving the student experience and post-study work rights tops the government’s agenda as the strategy points to the importance of work experience while studying- especially for higher education and VET students– but identifies English language competency and limited local networks as barriers.
Accommodation has also been an historic bugbear among students which the government aims to alleviate through improving purpose-built accommodation near campuses and using competitor countries as bench markers for service and quality.
“International student surveys consistently highlight that Australia lets itself down in areas such as the quality and cost of student accommodation and the provision of employability skills,” commented Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia.
“Given the revenue generated by full fee paying international students, our education institutions and governments need to provide a coordinated approach to better addressing such feedback.”
And while the government has cut tuition subsidies to universities, it has pledged funding for research grants and aims to facilitate collaborations between industry and researchers.
“We are particularly pleased to see a commitment to investment in collaborative research and research infrastructure”
Universities Australia said the draft policy has the potential to lead to the development and growth of the sector.
“We are particularly pleased to see a commitment to investment in collaborative research and research infrastructure and look forward to seeing this reflected in the coming Federal Budget,” said Chief Executive Belinda Robinson.
“The ability to produce high quality collaborative research is critical for cementing our position as one of the best higher education systems in the world.”
The strategy also proposes working with Austrade to develop a long-term marketing plan including taking an annual survey of education agents to understand the impact of marketing efforts.
Not surprisingly, the policy focuses on Asia as the main target country for expanding partnerships and two-way mobility, but the government has also flagged Latin America and the Middle East as regions for growth potential.
Efforts in offshore delivery will focus on the VET sector which the government plans to put forward for government and industry-led skills training, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
Meanwhile the ongoing Future Unlimited for Streamlined Visa Processing consultation will consider opportunities to “enhance existing arrangements”.
Honeywood confirmed that at a recent meeting of Australia’s Education Visa Consultative Committee a stakeholder survey indicated that SVP has created a system of ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ education providers.
“It is also costly from a staffing perspective and still open to some fraudulent behaviour. A new visa system is anticipated but not before January 2017,” he said.
Beyond Asia, the government has flagged Latin America and the Middle East as regions for growth potential
The draft will be open for public consultation until the end of May and the government says it will consult with sector stakeholders throughout 2015 in two roundtable sessions.
Honeywood lauded the government’s efforts to answer the needs of industry on a unified front but says it’s now time to put the plan into action.
“As this is the first government to produce a whole of government blueprint for our sector then they should be commended for their initiative,” he said. “It remains to be seen how many ministers will now heed the call to action and become ‘champions’ of international education.”
He added that the sector is keen to have the roundtable discussions begin as soon as possible. “It is one thing to have a whole of government strategy on the table but quite another to have regular meetings with genuine buy-in from the relevant portfolio ministers.”