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“Business as usual” after surprise Australian election result

Australian international education stakeholders have returned to “business as usual” after the weekend’s federal election failed to live up to expectations that a new Labor-led government would take power.

Expected changes to Australia's education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/UnsplashExpected changes to Australia's education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/Unsplash

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses

The shock result on May 18 saw the Liberal-National Coalition retain power to defy the majority of opinion polls, and has received a mixed reception from the industry as the promise of substantial reforms under Labor all but disappeared.

English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker said the government retaining power provided “continuity to the international education sector” and added that it ensured a continuation of the current work being undertaken as part of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need”

In the lead up to the election, the Labor opposition had promised to revamp both the national strategy as well as the overarching Council for International Education that oversees its implementation.

While a stabilising factor, others observe the government returning to power means the same concerns and lobbying efforts from before the election continue.

In particular, Labor pledged $10 billion in university funding over ten years, a move peak bodies believed would reduce reliance on international student revenue.

“The worry now is to the effect that universities will now look to alternative revenue sources and that usually will mean they’ll up the ante on their international student recruitment,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students because this additional revenue expectation is not now forthcoming.”

Both Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, which lobbied the government to undo a series of funding freezes, welcomed the return of the government but renewed their calls to return funding to previous levels.

“We must ensure young Australians – especially from battling communities really doing it tough – don’t miss out on the chance of a university education,” said UA chair Deborah Terry.

“Our focus must continue to be on opportunities for all Australians – because without those opportunities, our economy will be less competitive and our people and communities will miss out.”

However, Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, warned universities may have their funding squeezed on dual fronts if scrutiny of English language proficiency and the impact of temporary migrants including international students on capital cities’ infrastructure continues.

“[Education minister Dan Tehan] has already indicated that he’s pursuing the English language standards issue with TEQSA and so I think that’s a clear signal that he’s interested in whether the required English is, in fact, being achieved prior to commencement,” he told The PIE News.

A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses and a reduction in universities’ activities, Norton continued, before adding it wasn’t a given that the scrutiny would lead to significant changes.

“Counter to that, I think [the government is] still very much seeing international students through an export and business focus and that will make them reluctant to act.”

From a vocational perspective, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) chief executive Troy Williams said his organisation was “comfortable with the reelected government’s approach to the vocational education and training sector.”

In particular, he cited the Joyce Review into vocational education, released shortly before the election was announced, as a commitment by the government to improve the sector.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students”

“ITECA was extensively involved in the Joyce Review consultation process and endorses its broad direction that seeks to speed-up the development of new qualifications, and revision to existing qualifications, so as to ensure that they provide students with job-ready outcomes,” Williams said.

While not directly related to international education, it has been understood the review could in part increase the global competitiveness of Australian vocational education.

Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the election result meant his organisation would continue their lobbying efforts, particularly around the axing of the Endeavour Scholarship program which provided the only government-funded mobility program for vocational students.

“They’ve basically sacrificed that experience for the purview of trying to attract international and also domestic students to regional Australia,” he said.

“We think that sacrifice for regional Australia is too high.”

Robertson told The PIE it was also disappointing the Council for International Education would not be overhauled, as it currently did not have a TAFE representative.

“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need to be able to make sure that international education works. We’re concerned about that.”

It is understood education minister Dan Tehan will remain in his portfolio.

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