Opening Address for the UNESCO 14th Session of the Regional Committee on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

Introduction

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to open the 14th Session of the Regional Committee on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in Asia.

Welcome to all the delegates from 36 countries. We have education experts from Iran to Vietnam and places between.

The Regional Committee on the Recognition of Qualifications in Higher Education in Asia and the Pacific does valuable work.

All of you know that a system that gives you confidence in the integrity of your students’ qualifications – regardless of where they studied or who they studied with – will generate long term prosperity for your nations, and for your students.

In other words, education is a major investment for us all. Perhaps our biggest investment in the future. So education qualifications must be benchmarked against the highest quality standards if they are to provide a return.

How to do that – how to adopt best practice, is the challenge you will grapple with over the next two days.

Value of International education

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students from around the world choose to undertake study and research in Australia. They want to know that when they’re finished, they can rely on the qualifications we award them being recognised at home.

Because their biggest return on their investment is being able to use their Australian education around the world.

International students and international education are hugely important to Australia. We work hard to inculcate our academic strengths in what we teach. We involve some of our region’s best and brightest researchers, academics and scholars.

We are proud of our standing in major international indices and rankings. The release this week of the Academic Ranking of World Universities placed six Australian universities in the top 100, up from four in 2015. Australia was, at a country level ranked third behind the United States and the United Kingdom.

We aim to exceed the expectations of students, their future employers and their home nations generally in what is delivered, whether that is in higher education or in vocational education and training.

Studies show that problem solving, cross-cultural understanding, transferable skills and self-reliance are what employers, all around the world, are looking for. Students who have studied internationally are very likely to display these qualities. Australia is in high demand as a study destination because of our energetic approach to internationalisation.

International recognition is a huge part of this. We invite students through the door of global opportunity by ensuring qualifications work around the world.

Earlier this year the Australian Government released the National Strategy for International Education 2025. It is Australia’s blueprint for the future of international education and was developed collaboratively with education providers at all levels –including my area of vocational education and skills.

I’m privileged to have the responsibility for vocational study and to support Education and Training Minister Birmingham in expanding international skills education. This area is very important to Australia’s overall effort. There are currently 4.5 million VET students including 129,000 international students year to date. One in four international students aim to get a VET qualification while studying in Australia.

A clear international strategy encompassing all that we offer, and value, is essential - because international education doesn’t only deliver a return for students. It underpins diplomatic and business opportunities for us all, it makes us all more productive and – as is well recognised – it enhances relations between nations through interpersonal links.

In a global economy where digital disruption creates demand for goods and services that are better, faster and cheaper, this is very important.

In the end, this success for students, academics, researchers, workers, education providers and employers around the world will rely on one thing – respect for, and recognition of, qualifications that have met quality benchmarks.

In Australia we have systems for timely, transparent and fair recognition of foreign qualifications.

We are keen to share our experiences with you to support the Asia-Pacific region’s vibrant international education community, and community of interest.

Australian Qualifications Framework

I think many of you involved in quality assurance are familiar with the Australian Qualifications Framework – the AQF. It has served Australia well since 1995. 

Incorporating quality assured qualifications into a single, comprehensive national framework, the AQF underpins qualifications gained in higher education, vocational education and training and schools.

Employers and their representative bodies, educational institutions, professional associations, licensing authorities and governments all hold a stake in the AQF.

Businesses looking to employ Australian trained graduates rely on the AQF to know exactly what these high quality qualifications deliver.

Employers trust the AQF

And Australia’s reputation for world class qualifications also relies on other countries trusting the AQF. 

And working with other countries to share expertise and learn from best practice and ongoing improvement of our systems and frameworks can only make that stronger.

Student Mobility

International education is a two-way street. Two-way mobility nurtures the existing robust educational connections in the region.

We support Australian students to study abroad. And there has been a huge swell in their numbers.  They are attracted to Asia in particular.

Just like students who come to us, our outbound students know that international education, with its cross-cultural advantages, helps them find work after they study, by giving them entry to either the region, or indeed, the global talent pool.

The Australian Government supports this notion with a generous suite of successful scholarship programmes.

Furthermore we support students from other countries to avail themselves of our higher education, vocational education and training, short-term and semester-based study and internships through a range of avenues.

Students receive funds through the Australia Awards Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships, Australia Awards Endeavour Mobility Grants, and the New Colombo Plan.

Our universities allocate the Australia Awards Endeavour Mobility Grants for students to work on particular projects.

Other countries give their citizens scholarships and mobility offerings to gain qualifications in our institutions.

Our learning institutions understand the fundamental value of international cooperation and exchange.

The Australia-China Joint Research facility in Future Dairy Manufacturing has enabled researchers from Monash University to work with researchers at Soochow University on new manufacturing processes and efficiencies for the dairy industry.

Besides developing new high-value dairy products, they are establishing strong linkages between Australia’s dairy industry and the large distribution network in China.

Student mobility is a growing phenomenon unlikely to slow down.

According to the ACEF Monitor publication, an estimated five million students studied outside of their home countries last year. ([1])

This is more than triple the global international student enrolment since 1990.

Demand from Asia has driven most of this growth, but other countries are emerging and non-English-speaking countries are starting to attract more students.

More demand for post-graduate and vocational training programs is anticipated.

UNESCO Asia-Pacific recognition conventions

The global trend of students internationalising their education cannot be stopped. What we therefore must do is adopt good recognition practices to help them on their educational journey.

Making mobility easier for students is a major objective of the Asia-Pacific recognition conventions.

Cooperating through the conventions builds trust and understanding in the education systems and the qualifications offered at the learning institutions in the Asia-Pacific.

Recognition is not just about accepting the qualifications your students earn in other countries. It’s equally about making sure other countries accept the qualifications from your institutions.

The conventions give us consistent ways of recognising learning and achievement. They are about supporting countries to set up systems, and once we have them we can improve them.

The Asia-Pacific recognition conventions are a reasonable framework to negotiate recognition arrangements and stimulate mobility.

The conventions mean we can maintain momentum in this critically important area of cooperation.

We must do our best to overcome the barriers preventing recognition of qualifications because it’s key to the success of the region’s education outcomes, and employment opportunities in the Asia-Pacific.

The conventions pave the way for studies, diplomas and degrees in higher education to be recognised as widely as possible, considering the great diversity of educational systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

An interconnected system where qualifications with quality benchmarks are recognised, can deepen appreciation of the region’s rich cultural, social, political, religious and economic diversity.

Value of Recognition

Recognition of qualifications increases opportunity. It means a student’s investment in their education is not at risk. 

Without recognition of qualifications, a foreign qualification has no formal value and it may not be understood by higher education institutions or employers.

Removing barriers to student mobility – both inbound and outbound – is a priority.

Recognising qualifications offers students a more diverse educational experience and ultimately, this generates economic productivity.

These are priorities for many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed, the world.  

Of course opening up the education system is not limited to the Asia Pacific.  Your work over the next two days is part of a global trend.

Another reason we are here is because UNESCO is working on the Global Convention on the Recognition of Higher Education Qualifications. 

Experts from Australia, China, Iran, India and Malaysia – some of whom are in the room - are contributing the Asia-Pacific perspective to this initiative.

The goal is for all students to have fair recognition of their qualifications, wherever they’re from and wherever they’re going.

Recognition of qualifications is also key to the fundamental human right to education, which is also on UNESCO’s agenda.

Conclusion

I’ll close by saying that as higher education in the Asia-Pacific has expanded and diversified in recent decades, so too has the regional cooperation to address the challenges of quality assurance and recognition.

The next two days are an opportunity to build on those achievements and make real progress on fair recognition of qualifications in the Asia-Pacific.

I think we will all gain from negotiating policies and processes to recognise skills and knowledge gained internationally.

A qualifications recognition system that allows for high quality and sustainable two-way graduate mobility will certainly pay off for individuals, industry and nations.

Because we will harness the potential of the region, our institutions, and our people.

Thank you.

 

ENDS

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