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Australia: sector deliberates on the road to 2030 at AIEC

Federal MP Julian Hill also said that there was a need to “rebalance the conversation in the Australian community" in relation to international students. Photo: AIEC

Waiting lists have already been cut by two-thirds, and the sector is "breaking the back of the backlog"

Sector leaders came together to discuss Australia’s national strategy for international education (2021-2030) and what some of the key aspects are that will shape its successful delivery during the current decade.

“A $40 billion industry was cut in half…But I don’t have to tell you that. You felt it,” minister of education Jason Clare said, in his address to over 1,750 delegates at the much-awaited conference which took place October 18-21. 

“Students being told to go home or being left to rely on the kindness of charity didn’t help either. We have a big task ahead of us to rebuild – the work to turn this around has already started,” Clare emphasised.

“A $40 billion industry was cut in half”

“In May, more than 130,000 students were waiting overseas for their visa to be processed. We have put more than 180 staff on to help process visas. And the number of students waiting overseas for visas is now down to just over 40,000,” he highlighted.

He added that waiting lists have already been cut by two-thirds, and that the sector is “breaking the back of the backlog”.

“The jobs and skills summit delivered a firm commitment on the issue of post-study work rights, in areas of skills shortage and we are in the process of working through that now,” Julian Hill, federal MP and the co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of International Education Group, said.

“The reason the parliamentary friendship group was set up is to improve the literacy [about international education] right across the parliament,” Hill noted, stressing the need for enhancing the social license and building a deeper understanding about the international education sector.

Hill also said that there was a need to “rebalance the conversation in the Australian community” in relation to international students, to “swing the pendulum back to permanent migration”.

He noted that there were some “elephants in the room” not touched upon in the strategy, as well as some emerging things which “might need to be looked at”. 

“Our success in the long run rests on two things — high quality and a great student experience,” Hill added.

Janelle Chapman, President, International Education Association of Australia highlighted the four pronged focus of the strategy.

“The strategy was made with a focus on all four pillars of the international education sector – schools, ELICOS, VET, and higher ed,” she said.

Speaking about the need for the ten year strategy towards helping solve the acute skills shortages facing the sector, Chapman said that there was a need to assess “whether we have the right program alignment in terms of delivering” what is needed for business, industry, and the economy in the long term.

“Our success in the long run rests on two things – high quality and a great student experience”

“The Covid episode has taught us that micro credentials and short-term courses are being looked at by the industry with a keen focus,” she said.

“It’s also important to think about whether we are delivering for the emerging industries, such as data analytics, digital engineering, health, energy, climate, and others.

“We need to invest more in the research collaborations that are needed. The international education industry in Australia needs to collaborate more in order to really be the solution for those skills industries,” Chapman stressed.

Phil Honeywood, CEO of IEAA, said that Australia’s international education governance structure was unique as “until very recently [the country had] the world’s only national council for international education.”

Honeywood said that the strategy needed to bring back the focus on students in order to deliver on its goals and objectives for the decade.

“The strategy also has three important words that it mentions — Connected, Creative, and Caring…with a focus on students,” he noted.

“One thing that we need to keep doing is asking students what they want”

“Our social licence to operate has often been a pendulum swing. It has often gone from being quite pro international students to being not so much in favour of… the sector needs a PR campaign to remedy this,” he emphasised.

“When we compare ourselves to other countries, Canada for example has got the migration pathways that we should have,” Honeywood said, speaking about the need for Australia to reemerge a destination of choice. 

Further, speaking about the positive uptake in transnational education, Honeywood mentioned that according to him “Covid has been a net good, because it has required institutions to focus on quality delivery offshore.”

Karen Sandercock, first assistant secretary of the International Division, Australian Government Department of Education, said there is now a “sense of optimism” – and commencements are going by 20%, with visa grants at an “all time high”. These signs, she insisted, were something that needed to be “capitalised upon”.

“One thing that we need to keep doing is asking students what they want – that pandemic has really sharpened the student experience,” she added.

 “I am very conscious what an incredible national asset this is. That you’re the biggest export we don’t dig or drill out the ground… I sincerely believe our future will be shaped more by what we in education, than almost anything else. And that includes what we do here – in international education,” Clare concluded.

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