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Politically focused AIEC promotes community engagement

The continued success of Australia’s international education industry is dependant on its ability to better promote its benefits to the wider community, according to speakers at the 32nd annual Australian International Education Conference.

Uncle Allen Madden, Gadigal Elder, welcomes delegates to country at AIEC 2018. Photo: The PIE News

This year’s AIEC saw five state and federal politicians participate, as several elections loom in the coming months

Themed Empowering a new generation and held in Sydney, the conference centred around conversations on the sustainability of international education and the broader population’s understanding of the industry.

“I think we perhaps don’t do things in as coordinated a way as we should”

“The sector is doing an outstanding job promoting Australia to the rest of the world,” said education minister Dan Tehan.

“But we must also work to promote our education sector to the rest of Australia.”

Opening the conference, Tehan said that Australians should be proud of their international education system, but added many are not aware it was the country’s third largest export industry.

Centre for Global Higher Education director Simon Marginson’s prediction that Australia will overtake the UK as the second most popular destination for international students featured in several keynotes and presentations.

“In many ways, we’re in uncharted territory,” said outgoing IEAA president Chris Ziguras.

“We’re out in front of many of our colleagues internationally, so we’ve known for quite a while that our success in continuing to develop a globally engaged education system is dependant upon bringing the whole community with us.”

“We have to make sure, in the spirit of our sector… we’ve adopted bi-partisan policy wherever possible”

In her first address as the new IEAA president, Melissa Banks outlined her organisation’s intentions to increase awareness, saying that as well as promoting international education to the community, there were plans to increase research within the industry.

“We aim to generate and contribute to high quality applied research relevant to the sector and to our stakeholders,” she said.

“We want to influence policy, advocacy and practice in the sector.”

This year’s AIEC saw a noticeable number of politicians at state and federal levels participate, as several elections loom in the coming months – five MPs and senators spoke in total.

Closing out the conference, the Liberal party’s Julian Leeser and Labor’s Julian Hill gave their perspectives on the support needed to sustain the sector, and the work required from the industry itself.

“We must also work to promote our education sector to the rest of Australia.”

Focusing on the number of state, city and institution-based strategies, Leeser called for a whole of industry approach to promoting Australia as a study destination.

“One of the things we need to do is bring states and territories and the Commonwealth together, and the universities together, so everybody is not constantly competing for the same people in the same market,” he told delegates.

“Institutions will all want to get the best student for themselves, that’s completely understandable, and a bit of competition is healthy. But sometimes, I think we perhaps don’t do things in as coordinated a way as we should.”

Adding to Leeser’s comment, Hill said industry contributions to promoting Australia would have a significant impact on the sustainability of the sector, though did note that his suggestions were not party policy.

“There is a case for some additional government investment, but I also think there is a case for some direct contribution from the sector… to quality and market development,” he said.

“The real politic is everyone will say ‘I wouldn’t want to pay anything’. Just imagine for a moment with 600,000 students that you could design some kind of a contribution to a fund… you’d have an enormous pool of money for Austrade.”

In the lead up to the federal election, IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood used his platform to call for ongoing support and engagement, regardless of which party forms government.

“We have to make sure, in the spirit of our sector, that we’re very collaborative and we’ve adopted bi-partisan policy wherever possible,” he said.

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