Last week, Universities Australia, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia and Independent Higher Education Australia welcomed Jason Clare on his appointment as minister for education.
Along with addressing the skills shortages for degree-educated workers, conducting Australia’s research and helping to tackle the challenge of climate and energy transition, universities can “find ways to navigate through a challenging geopolitical landscape and the sensitivities in our region”, chief executive Catriona Jackson reminded.
ITECA added that new minister for Skills and Training Brendan O’Connor can “look to the nation’s independent skills training sector with confidence as it leads on several key measures of employer and student satisfaction”.
“We look forward to working with Ministers O’Connor and Clare as we look towards a more integrated tertiary education system, one in which the skills training and higher education sector operate as one yet retain their separate strengths and identities,” Troy Williams, ITECA chief executive, noted.
“Using our international student social insight tool The Social Source and in focus groups in the final weeks of the campaign we were picking up real anxiety amongst students that a re-elected [Liberal led] coalition government could result in them being told ‘to go home’, a reference to a now infamous line the previous PM used at the beginning of the pandemic,” Jeffrey Smart, co-founder and director of international education consultancy The Lygon Group told The PIE.
“That era is now over with the election of the new Labor government,” Smart continued.
Labor has “strong supporters” of international education in its parliamentary ranks, he added.
“While we don’t yet know what policy changes the new government will implement, we are hopeful to see an improvement in visa processing times, and a strong signal that Australia welcomes international students,” he opined.
Smart however said that, he could not foresee the new government “really focusing on international education for a while as they have a number of big domestic policy agenda”.
“But the early signs are promising,” he said. An example of this is the commitment with Indian PM Modi at the Quad leaders dialogue in Tokyo to continue cooperation in research and education.
“The PM [has also made] his first visit to another important international education market and trading partner – Indonesia,” Smart highlighted.
“International education and research are directly linked to economic growth and the opportunity of higher living standards,” Vicki Thomson, chief executive of The Group of Eight told The PIE.
She said that Australia’s leading research-intensive universities which the Go8 represents, “stand ready to partner with the new government to ensure the nation can reach its full potential”.
“Policy settings need to be sharply focused on meeting these immediate and short-term demands”
Recommendations in the Essential Decisions for National Success policy papers Go8 released during the election campaign included launching a new visa for “high achieving graduates from top global universities”; providing “strategic support” towards strengthening international engagements and national priorities; “re-engagement and diversification” of the sector, among others.
“International education and the introduction of targeted visa settings will be critical to ensuring Australia has access to the global talent pool and skilled workforce essential to meet the demands of new and emerging critical industries,” Thomson highlighted.
“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed how much Australia relies on imports [of international students] to supplement our locally grown talent base. Australia is facing serious challenges to maintaining capacity in essential areas of workforce need, the engineering and medical workforce among them.”
Thomson said that the new government should position Australia as “a provider of choice in the region for high quality postgraduate and research education” and as a “welcoming and engaged member of the Indo-Pacific region”.
“A renewed focus on international education in the post Covid-19 world is needed to reposition the sector to better meet the needs of industry and the economy. It will also boost economic growth, foster foreign diplomacy and strengthen Australia’s national security,” she told The PIE.
Meanwhile, Universities Australia’s Jackson said that, as a nation Australia needs “more education and knowledge – not less, and more skilled graduates – not fewer, to fulfil the needs of a modern economy and society”.
Williams at ITECA said that “as the nation tackles a growing skills shortage and looks to increase workforce productivity, it will be the nation’s independent skills training sector that will do the heavy lifting in delivering the solutions to these problems”.
“Australia’s independent higher education sector educates approximately 170,000 domestic and international students, thus making a significant economic and social contribution to the education sector in Australia,” said Peter Hendy, CEO of Independent Higher Education Australia.
“The new government has an opportunity to advance Australia’s higher education sector and drive the success of our national economy into the future by harnessing the growing capability of Australian independent higher education,” he highlighted.
“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed how much Australia relies on imports”
“Prior to the federal election, we released the 2022 IHEA Federal Election Platform, which sets out a series of beneficial sector reforms to re-energise Australian higher education, tackle skills shortages, and boost productivity during this new term of Australian government.”
Drawing out the policy imperatives, Hendy said that as Australia emerges from the impacts of the Covid pandemic driven economic downturn, “the economy is facing skills and workforce shortages.”
“Policy settings need to be sharply focused on meeting these immediate and short-term demands, while charting a sustainable course for educating a skilled workforce that industry demands,” he stressed.