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Experts weigh in on Australia’s 10-year strategy at AIEC

Linda Kristjanson and Belle Lim joined a panel discussion at AIEC. Photo: AIEC

"We need to reprioritise outbound student mobility"

The strategy – which government launched a consultation on earlier this year – has received over 120 written submissions, assistant secretary at the department of Education, Skills and Employment, Simon Moore revealed.

With an additional 1,600+ individuals participating in consultation process webinars and workshops, the government has a “strong foundation” to develop the strategy, he continued.

“This is not only about students coming to us, but also about us reaching out to the world”

“Expert members provided their advice on the strategy to [education] minister Tudge and now he is considering this advice carefully at the moment in consultation with his ministerial colleagues,” Moore stated.

“The Australian government looks forward to sharing the final strategy with the sector in due course. This, we expect, will be before the end of the year.”

One participant in the consultation is former vice-chancellor and president Swinburne University of Technology and current member of the Council for International Education, Linda Kristjanson.

“Firstly, what we really want to do is to make sure that the strategy is very future focused. And by that I mean, really prepares the students for the workforce of the future,” she told The PIE.

“Second is to really examine carefully the regulatory frameworks and the policy settings to check that they are aligned to the progressive, new directions that the international education community could embrace.”

For example, she asked, are policy settings aligned to enable a world with more blended learning of online alongside on campus experiences, and do they ensure quality?

Thirdly, the strategy should underscore the importance of Australia’s external engagement, she continued.

“This is not only about students coming to us, but also about us reaching out to the world.

“If we can create opportunities in outbound education, then we are going to be a more resilient and internationally engaged country, with citizens who would be internationally competent, culturally competent, and would have built the trusted relationships that will be vital to our social and economic prosperity.”

Speaking at AIEC, national president of the Council of International Students Australia Belle Lim highlighted that the sector has “a lot to gain” by framing activities around students’ needs.

“The students need to feel safe, valued and connected in our community here. We would like to see students to be supported by professionals who have a good level of cultural competency,” said Lim.

“Social isolation, racism, discrimination, and lack of a sense of belonging can be barriers for students in Australia. So, we want to look at identifying these issues and articulating how students can be supported during their transition period [when they arrive from another country].

“Ultimately we want to promote intercultural competency between international and domestic students, promote a multicultural society, and produce better graduate outcomes for international students.”

HE providers and the educators that welcome students “must be the starting point”, Kristjanson emphasised.

“We also need to focus on working with the government and the industry to tell the wonderful stories of the contributions that international students make to our country, when they are here as students and when we are fortunate enough to attract them to become future Australians,” she told The PIE.

“While statistics can sometimes be compelling, the average person is probably most influenced by stories. Most of us have come to this country from somewhere else. The majority of our workforce are from overseas. So, we rely on international talent, the best and the brightest who want to come here and create a life and build a family here.”

The majority of Australians are welcoming and excited to be a part of a global community, she continued – something to be celebrated.

“When you think about the recent Covid-19 crisis and the way Sikh communities came forward to provide meals to anyone in the community who was suffering or in need of support, those are the kind of examples of community and connection. And, that’s why we have chosen those words as part of our strategy — being connected and caring. It’s through that compassionate response that we will build a safer world.”

Discussion during the consultation process also focused around how to ensure better post-study work outcomes, and ensuring “work integrated learning is embedded in all of the courses that we are offering”, Kristjanson said.

“It means don’t build back as fast as we can, so that some of the weaknesses in the system get exacerbated”

“It would also help to break down barriers for industry, which may be less familiar with the wonderful talents and contributions that international students can make to their businesses. By allowing students to participate in work integrated learning projects or internships, cadetships, there will be more avenues for opening the doorways to building bridges and employment of graduates,” she told The PIE.

Deputy vice chancellor and strategic adviser at The University of Newcastle Kent Anderson urged caution amid eagerness for the sector to open on the other side of the pandemic.

“I want to go back to the post-tsunami message of ‘Build back better’,” he said. “This phrase originated in our region. It means don’t build back as fast as we can, so that some of the weaknesses in the system get exacerbated, rather it means, take the time to build the diversity and a broad spectrum that gives us the social license to operate,” he said.

“We need to reprioritise outbound student mobility. Secondly, we need to come back to the old Colombo Plan, what we now call the Australia Awards, and that is using our overseas development to welcome [those international] students who might not have the financial capability to participate with us. At each of our institutions we can create scholarships instituted for such students.”

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