The centre-right Liberal Party voted to install Turnbull, a former investment banker who has served as Minister of Communications for the last two years, in a snap election that made him Australia’s eighth prime minister in five years.
“Simon Birmingham has diligently worked to incorporate vocational training and technical skill issues into the Draft National International Education Strategy”
He has already signalled possible change to the government’s stalled education package, which includes the deregulation of university fees and cutting the public subsidy for undergraduate degrees.
Australia-based global education company Navitas was pleased to hear Turnbull calling for “a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative” in his inaugural speech, according to its executive general manager, Helen Zimmerman.
“It’s clear that the new prime minister and his cabinet continue to recognise the importance of an nationally integrated international education sector that is a key element in meeting the challenges of the future,” she told The PIE News.
Turnbull also replaced Christopher Pyne, now Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science, with Simon Birmingham as Minister for Education and Training.
The move has been welcomed by the international education sector thanks to Birmingham’s track record of support, which includes hosting roundtable discussions to consult with stakeholders on the Draft National Strategy for International Education.
Education minister Simon Birmingham
“He has diligently worked to incorporate vocational training and technical skill issues into the Draft National International Education Strategy,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia.
Announcing his new cabinet, Turnbull praised Birmingham for moving “quickly and effectively to lead the transformation of the vocational education and training sector”, supporting VET both within Australia and in regional markets such as China.
Birmingham has indicated that he intends to collaborate with stakeholders “to develop policy and to build broad support for any future reforms we need to undertake” – an announcement that has been warmly received.
Birmingham’s experience in training will “inform a more balanced approach to tertiary education and training”, commented Martin Riordan, CEO of TAFE Directors Australia, which represents vocational education and training providers.
Meanwhile, the introduction of a new position, Tourism and International Education Minister, is a leap forward for the ELT sector, which straddles both tourism and ELICOS portfolios, English Australia CEO Brett Blacker told The PIE News.
Tourism and International Education Minister Richard Colbeck
Though it is not a cabinet position, the installation of Senator Richard Colbeck in the role sees tourism restored to ministerial level and reinforces the profile of international education – Australia’s fourth largest export sector – on the national agenda.
“It is recognition that both the student and visitor economies are essential elements in ensuring Australia’s continuing growth and prosperity,” said Blacker.
“Clearly, our sector will want to ascertain fairly quickly what role is envisaged for this new position,” added Honeywood. “Hopefully, international education will be treated with equal emphasis to the tourism side of his portfolio.”
The appointment of Luke Hartsuyker as Minister Vocational Education and Skills means there are now four ministers with responsibility for education.
“The creation of four ministers with responsibilities for education… appears to recognise, and give focus to, the specific nature of key elements of the education sector within a connected framework,” Zimmerman said.
“At this early stage we are optimistic that the government is increasingly recognising the role international education makes to communities, individuals and economies in Australia and globally,” she added.
“Hopefully, international education will be treated with equal emphasis to the tourism side of his portfolio”
Honeywood also cautioned that there is a need for clarification around the immigration and trade portfolios, as the position of Assistant Minister for Immigration, which bore responsibility for student visa issues, has been scrapped.
“We will have to take matters up directly with the senior Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. Unfortunately, he is often kept busy with his border control portfolio,” he noted.
Universities Australia meanwhile has called on Turnbull to “immediately dump” the proposed 20% funding cut in anticipation of an upcoming policy debate on the issue.
“Education, innovation, ideas and entrepreneurialism are the ‘new wave’ commodities desperately needed to drive the transition to a knowledge economy,” said its chief executive, Belinda Robinson.
“This is a vision shared by our universities and requires a partnership to leverage our intellectual infrastructure and human capital to position Australia for long-term national success.”