The peak body for the country’s independent higher education, vocational education, training and skills providers set out the notion in a blueprint of seven key priorities for the next Australian parliament.
As part of the plan, ITECA said the next government must “immediately put in place a plan to rebuild Australia’s capacity and reputation to support international students, backed by a new International Education Commission tasked with implementing the new Australian international education strategy”.
“Australia’s economic prosperity is highly dependent on a skilled and educated workforce. Australia more than ever needs to be the clever nation to take advantage of the many future economic opportunities ahead of it. We need to position the tertiary education sector to do this,” Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive, said in a statement.
Independent providers support around 240,000 students studying in Australia from overseas, the body highlighted.
Other priorities it sets out include creating a five-year strategy to deliver an integrated tertiary education system, where higher education and vocational education and training sectors operate as one.
A more “cohesive approach” to regulation and reporting that reduces red tape on tertiary education would eliminate “duplicative, redundant and burdensome regulation and reporting at a state/territory and national level”, ITECA added.
It also wants more investment to strengthen student choice in higher education and a single student loan program that supports lifelong learning. It called for an approach to skills funding that “empowers student choice” and an approach that funds courses where the skills shortages are.
With economic growth likely to be strong as Australia emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic (forecasts from the National Skills Commission, Treasury and the Reserve Bank expect growth on average 3.5%pa over the next two years) and unemployment likely to fall 5.5% in the next twelve months, there is growing consensus that skills shortages will be a certainty, the body suggested.
“Australia needs a more considered approach to international education as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, one that more closely aligns education policy, visa policy settings and the marketing of international education overseas,” Williams told The PIE.
“Presently, beyond informal consultations across government and the sector there is no approach that allows policy settings here to ensure that Australias international education strategy is cohesive.”
ITECA has previously been a strong proponent for a new International Education Commission to bring together government activities in the international education sector, with Williams previously saying that a whole of government approach is needed on “regulation of tertiary education providers, visa processing and market promotion”.
“It’s time for a single Australian government agency to coordinate these activities,” he said when the government announced a consultation on its strategy for international education in March.
A new government agency would have “the statutory authority to not only champion overseas Australia’s great reputation for supporting students, but one which will provide local parliamentary and departmental stakeholders with a critical reference point when determining policy – and where appropriate set policy too”, Williams suggested.
The next federal elections – either simultaneous House of Representatives and half-Senate or half-Senate only – are due sometime between August 7, 2021, and May 21, 2022.
It “provides the opportunity to secure a commitment from politicians across the political spectrum to commit to the continuing capability and reputation of the independent tertiary education sector in delivering training excellence for employers and students”, ITECA explained.
“There has been considerable reform to Australia’s tertiary education system in recent years, while very welcome they are not enough if we are to reach our potential as a clever nation,” Williams added.
“It is clear that it is independent providers with a commitment to excellence in the higher education, vocational education, training and skills sectors that will do the heavy-lifting in providing Australian businesses with a skilled and educated workforce.”
“Independent providers will do the heavy-lifting in providing Australian businesses with a skilled and educated workforce”
Australia’s independent vocational education and training providers support around 85% of the 4.2 million students in the skills sector. Australia’s independent higher education providers support around 10% of the 1.6 million students currently studying in the sector.
Within the National Skills Commission – recently set up by the Australian government – genuine skills shortage are established and “there is a certain logic in allowing graduates to transition to an alternative visa class to take-up those roles”, Williams noted.
“As a nation, we need to more clearly align our international education and immigration polices to ensure that they are mutually supportive,” he said. “That said, we need to be sure that we are not stripping our neighbours across the Pacific and South-East Asia of much needed talent in areas such as health.”
“Collectively and individually, independent tertiary education providers achieve some of the highest levels of employer and student satisfaction. It’s no wonder they enjoy a reputation for excellence,” Williams said.
Australian international education has been heavily impacted by continued border closures, with Williams recently indicating that ITECA members are looking for a clear plan for the return of international students. Over the long term, the body is looking to ensure that the sector is “sustainable and continues to be able to deliver quality outcomes for students”.
Recently, international education stakeholders in the country have called for students to be permitted to enter the country as part of a ‘vaccination passport’ arrangement.