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Australia to fund regional student repopulation by axing scholarship scheme

Australia’s push to financially encourage more international students to study in its regional areas will come at the expense of one of its existing two-way mobility programs, the government has revealed during its 2019/20 budget, in a move that has angered international education stakeholders.

The Australian government website confirms that there will be no further rounds of the ELP

Plans to cut the ELP come just under a month after the education minister signalled ongoing support for it

“This will have a negative impact well after this government is a footnote in history”

The decision, quietly introduced during the annual federal budget submission, will see funding for the Endeavour Leadership Program scholarships redirected to the Destination Australia Program scholarships.

These latter scholarships are up to AU$15,000 per year, awarded to eligible applicants studying at ‘regional’ campuses, which form part of the country’s Planning for Australia’s Future Population document.

The ELP had enabled applicants to apply for funding for research or professional development opportunities or higher level study programs overseas.

The decision, which must still pass parliament, comes two weeks after Universities Australia warned against funding the DAP through cuts to other programs.

“While Australian universities welcome the new Destination Australia scholarships, we are concerned they come at the expense of the Endeavour Leadership Program — a vital part of Australia’s international engagement on research,” UA chief executive Catriona Jackson told The PIE News.

“With the budget back in black, we shouldn’t have to choose between supporting students in the regions and tapping into the latest global knowledge that strengthens our own research.

“The two programs are complementary and ideally, they should exist side by side as part of Australia’s strategic education and research effort.”

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA and member of the Council for International Education which oversees the rollout of Australia’s national strategy, said the council was blindsided by the decision, calling it a “slap in the face”.

“In working towards getting more students in regional Australia, we were not aware that we would be robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

First introduced in 2003 and later used to support the national strategy, removing the ELP will effectively see no merit-based federal government program for inbound and outbound international education.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between supporting students in the regions and tapping into the latest global knowledge”

Speaking with The PIE, Honeywood said the removal of the ELP would be a bad sign for international partners, and reinforced the perception that Australia saw international students as a cash cow.

Domestically, the budget had a significant emphasis on vocational education, but Honeywood observed by removing the ELP, VET students would no longer have access to government-funded mobility programs.

“There will now be no VET outbound mobility program. So not only are we faced with a net reduction in the overall government investment in international education, but our nation’s image offshore will be compromised,” he said.

Honeywood added along with other peak and representative bodies, IEAA would push the government to reinstate funding.

In a poorly timed twist, the plans to cut the ELP come just under a month after education minister Dan Tehan apparently signalled the government’s ongoing support for it.

“Because the Morrison Government is keeping our economy strong, we can fund the Endeavour Leadership Program and support the next generation of Australian leaders to succeed,” he said at the time.

The decision will not affect Australia’s other outbound mobility program, the New Colombo Plan, nor the Australia Awards which provide scholarships and short courses to students from developing countries, both of which have been used to build diplomatic and soft power ties.

“Our nation’s image offshore will be compromised”

But in removing the ELP, Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight, said there would be fewer complementary opportunities for Australian and overseas students to create ties and improve in their area of expertise.

“We understand that every budget contains trade-offs – none more so than a budget announced just days before a federal election,” she said.

“But when those trade-offs come at a significant cost to the national economy and our global positioning, they will have a negative impact well after this government is but a footnote in Australian history.”

Thomson added the Go8 had provided submissions to the 2018 Soft Power Review in which is encouraged expanding existing programs.

On the domestic side, the government has remained steadfast in its freeze of research funding and announced plans to repurpose the Education Investment Fund to the Emergency Response Fund, despite also announcing a $7.1 billion surplus further agitating the higher education peak bodies.

“When government is trumpeting a surplus it is a mockery to then have to redirect funds rather than use available funds,” Thomson said.

The government’s decision to fold Endeavour is the second consecutive change to the program after its mobility and scholarship grants schemes were amalgamated in 2018/19.

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