Address to the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) International Employability Symposium

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Education and Training

Thanks very much Phil, I’m slightly less frustrated this season as I was last season as an Adelaide Crows fan but it’s still very much early days. To Phil Honeywood, perhaps Australia’s preeminent advocate for international education, and thank you for, not only having me here today and for you through the IEAA convening this event, but indeed for all that you do for promoting the international education industry in Australia and advancing it’s interests not just here but of course around the world. To Julian Hill, representing the Victorian government, ladies and gentlemen, representing the education providers, policy makers, industry it is wonderful to see not only such a broad group of people here, but now that I’m standing here looking out at you all, I can appreciate what Julian was saying about the desire for perhaps a few non attendees today. A special welcome to those squeezed in up the back and along the window sills and everywhere else everybody seems to be squeezed in here today.

I didn’t have a diary malfunction like Julian, but you are quite lucky that I came along here today because last night at the end of budget week in Canberra when the Senate moved to adjourn at around 8:30–9:00 last night, I went to one of Canberra’s many Chinese restaurants to have some dumplings and at the end of the meal they brought out some fortune cookies. I cracked open my fortune cookie and had a look at what it said and the fortune cookie said “go home earlier to enjoy the fun of family.” Now, I chose to ignore the message in the fortune cookie and instead I’ve come to Melbourne this morning to enjoy the fun of international education for a little while. So it is good to be here and it’s because it’s such an important sector that we at the federal government level take so very, very seriously and do want to get right – and indeed that is the reason why Christopher Pyne has pursued the international strategy that I’ll finish with today.

The IEAA does a great job of making sure our international educators work together as best as possible in the interests of international students and drives successful outcomes in relation to international policy.

As everyone in this room appreciates, but we should always make sure we reemphasise so that the broader community understand as well, International education is so important as one of the great pillars of Australia’s economic future. It is one of Australia’s fourth largest export industry, our largest services industry export, earning Australia over $16 billion per annum, and supporting more than 130,000 jobs right around Australia.

Our Government is profoundly committed to doing all we can to promote international education. All aspects of international education – including research linkages, study abroad, transnational and online education – are drawn together in the Draft National Strategy for International Education.

Just as we all want our education and training system to prepare Australians for rewarding jobs and careers, it is crucial to our ability to attract international students that they see that their education or training in Australia enhances their job and career prospects.

This means that internships and other work experience opportunities, courses that enhance employability and post-study work rights are all very important for our ability to attract international students to Australia – which is why it’s crucial that we continue to do better and better in this space.

In my role as the minister responsible for the vocational education and training sector, it’s my job to make sure that training, that vocational training, delivers real skills for real jobs – that it directly enhances employability, especially via embedded workplace experiences wherever possible, and that we are at the centre of achieving excellence in vocational learning.

So it’s a pleasure to be here to be part of your discussions today that for the broader international education sector and industry, focus so much on enhancing employability to create more job-ready graduates for the Australian and global workforce.

More than ever before, Australia’s future prosperity is tied to that of our global neighbours. With the right settings, skills, infrastructure and incentives in place, Australia will be in a strong position to capitalise on future global economic growth.

But the benefits of international education extend well beyond immediate economic benefits. International students contribute to a vibrant and culturally diverse Australia. Educating students from around the world fosters inter-cultural understanding in Australia and creates the people-to-people links that underpin our research, trade, investment and social engagement with the world.

Studying alongside Australian students, which I had the pleasure of doing through my MBA, international students help capitalise our campuses and classrooms.

They also help build cultural diversity in our workplaces and communities.

Businesses that are culturally diverse are more innovative, have more engaged and satisfied employees, and better understand the needs of their customers, especially in export markets. As you all know we signed free trade agreements (FTA) with our largest trading partners last year – China, Japan and Korea – giving Australian businesses unprecedented access to these markets.

These transformational agreements account for 62 per cent of our goods exports and 19 per cent of our services trade.

The agreements guarantee access to the Korean, Japanese and Chinese markets for a range of Australian service suppliers, including everything from financial, legal and telecommunications services, to medical, engineering and of course education services.

There are specific benefits for education in each of these agreements.

The Japan FTA provides guaranteed market access for Australian education providers to Japan’s higher education services market, including vocational and technical education.

Under the Korean agreement, Australian education providers benefit from new commitments which guarantee market access to Korea’s growing adult education sector.

Under the China FTA, China will list, on an official Ministry of Education website, all Australian private higher education institutions registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS).

This will add 77 institutions to the existing 105 Australian institutions on the Chinese website and will provide an important and trusted source of information through the Chinese government to potential Chinese students.

We’re also working to sign an FTA with India by the end of this year, again with a particular focus for service industries.

But as always in education, to make the most of these free trade agreements and to make the most of the opportunities to succeed we need a laser like focus on the needs and interests of students.

When it’s all boiled down, students, from wherever they come, generally want the same thing – a high-quality education that will help them get a job, and to have the most rewarding career they can.

Workplace experiences are an integral part of a quality education that will give students the on-the-ground experience they need to become job-ready graduates.

It’s clear that work opportunities are part of a great value package that Australia offers international students.

Last year’s international student survey showed 87 per cent of VET students and 76 per cent of higher education students regard being able to work while studying as an important factor when deciding where to study.

A similar majority – 83 per cent of VET students and 78 per cent of international higher education students – think being able to work in Australia after graduation is also important.

These numbers tell us that the sustainable growth of the sector depends on education and industry working together, within an appropriately supportive policy framework, to offer work experiences to international students so they are job-ready when they graduate…and there are some outstanding case studies – both here and abroad.

Take Thai businessman Dr Silapanad, Vice President of Western Digital, which employs over 85,000 people. He’s a strong and vocal advocate for employing students with an international education.

Since 2008, Western Digital has recruited around 600 Thai and international students for its four month internship program.

Students cover the cost of their flights, local universities provide accommodation and mentoring, and Western Digital provides a paid, international work experience opportunity.

As far as Dr Silapanad is concerned the program is a win-win for all involved.
The institutions get to give their students a real world work experience and ensure their curricula is relevant to workplace needs.

The company benefits by having extra staff to do the work, the new ideas students bring in and an opportunity to recruit talent.

In fact, Dr Silapanad puts the benefits to his company at about five times the return on investment.

Equally, the benefits for the students are immense.

They return to the classroom with hands-on experience, putting them in a strong position to compete for global jobs.

This is a great example of what a solid industry-education sector partnership can deliver.
It’s worth keeping Dr Silapanad in mind today as you think about how educators can partner with businesses to provide more work experiences to get students job-ready.

Adding both work experience and international experience to a student’s CV is especially beneficial.

A European study Erasmus Impact Study published last year found that 92 per cent of employers are looking for so-called ‘transversal skills’ when hiring graduates, alongside other key requirements such as field knowledge and relevant work experience.

Transversal skills are qualities like openness to new challenges, confidence, problem solving and decisions making, and tolerance towards others.

Students who had studied abroad were found to have higher values of these personality traits and were found to be half as likely to face long-term unemployment as graduates who hadn’t studied or trained abroad. What’s more they boasted an unemployment rate 23 per cent lower than the European average, five years after graduation. It demonstrates that this type of experience is a win for employers and a big win for those students.

With an understanding of the value students and businesses are increasingly placing on study-linked international work experience, the Government is taking a number of steps to encourage growth in this area.

I’m proud that the Australian Government is investing $8.3 million in the Endeavour Mobility Grants programme. Minister Pyne has just announced today that applications for Endeavour Mobility Grants are opening.

This programme increases the employability and training outcomes of university and VET students through an international study experience. It also helps to expand overseas links and activities by strengthening and diversifying outbound mobility programmes.

This year, more than 2,500 Australian undergraduate, post graduate and VET students will get an international experience through the grants.

An example of how the grants are helping local businesses is local VET provider Melbourne Polytechnic, who have used the grants to build a series of reciprocal visits with its transnational partners in China.

The Australian students involved in the visits have come away with a practical understanding of the Chinese tourism market and a cultural awareness to help them cater for Chinese clients.
These skills set these students up for great jobs working for Australian businesses serving the massive Chinese tourism market.

Similarly, Brisbane VET provider Charlton Brown has used mobility grants to develop strong relationships with disability and child care centres in Vietnam.

The Australian students involved in this year’s visit worked alongside the local Sisters of the Sacred Heart to provide child care and disability care, and develop culturally appropriate programs to benefit the local community.

One of these students, upon return to Australia, has been recognised by her employer, an early learning centre [Kindy Kapers], as that company’s Educator of the Year – with her success credited to her overseas experience and the employee she became through this experience. The employer is delighted that the student is putting her newfound skills in cultural competency into practice and encouraging her colleagues to explore and embrace cultural diversity at the centre.

We have also created international work opportunities for Australian undergraduate students through one of the Government’s signature initiatives, the $100 million New Colombo Plan.
Internships are a hallmark of the program, giving students real work experience and the chance to make connections with businesses and NGOs in the Indo Pacific.

Businesses such as Mitsui, the National Australia Bank, BHP Billiton and Telstra are on board offering internship opportunities for New Colombo Plan participants.

Back within Australia we enjoy some great sector-led initiatives creating more work opportunities for both domestic and international students.

In a world first, Australia now has a National Strategy on Work Integrated Learning in University Education.

I’d like to acknowledge the work of Universities Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, AiGroup, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Collaborative Education Network.

Again I encourage education and industry players to take a look at the National Work Integrated Learning Strategy to see how you can create more work integrated learning opportunities for students and what benefits you’ll gain by doing so and in particular those Australian companies participating internationally through the new Colombo Plan should be looking closely at what more they can also do domestically to complement those activities.

A localised sector-led initiative is the Regional Development Australia Hunter’s Manufacturing Education Program.

The Manufacturing Education Program involves 25 Hunter region high schools engaging with 32 Hunter based companies to build a highly skilled workforce for the region’s defence and manufacturing industries.

As a result, industry partners have reported that by the work experience provided, they’re now attracting more high quality candidates applying for their apprenticeship positions.

Here in Victoria, the innovative thinkers at STC are promoting commercialisation and entrepreneurship in students and early career researchers to create next-generation technologies and grow new businesses in the medical technology (Medtech) sector.

STC’s MedTech’s Got Talent is a unique program that challenges emerging entrepreneurs with a medical technology innovation.

It provides through practical and workplace experience entrepreneurial skills – pitching a business concept, developing a technology roadmap and launching commercialisation activities for their innovation.

Participants get a chance to tap into real resources – money, expertise and networks – to ideally position themselves with the experience to potentially undertake start-up success.

These are just a few examples of education-industry partnerships that are creating work opportunities for students – but there’s much more to do.

It’s clear that students understand the importance of getting real world experience early in their study so they have the skills and local networks that will help them get a job when they graduate.
It’s clear that as the world economy shifts its reliance to more globalised and high-tech industries, that businesses increasingly need and want workers with high quality, up to date and diverse skills.

To deliver this, Australian businesses and education and training providers must reach out to each other so that students have greater access to employment during study and a chance to develop those skills.

We need Australian businesses to emulate Dr Silapanad and become champions for employing international students here.

In the very competitive world of international education the challenges are great – but the potential reward for our students, our businesses and the nation are immense.

That’s why this symposium is so important.

That’s why the three practical guides you are producing to help create work opportunities for students are both so important.

I’d like to acknowledge IEAA for taking the initiative to create these guides and commend the authors for their insights into enhancing employability.

The Government is also keen to do more. Providing more work opportunities for international students is an important part of the Draft National Strategy for International Education and if you’ve not had a chance to look at it or to consult and submit your views on it, I encourage you to do so.

It identifies that we must continue to enrich the experiences of international students and our communities by welcoming students in local communities. This includes encouraging mutually rewarding interaction between Australian and international students as well as the active involvement of international students in local communities around Australia. In particular, as one of its strategic actions to support this goal it identifies work experience opportunities as being critically important.

So the strategy identifies the issue that brings you all here today for these discussions and obviously we trust your discussions will be a very important input in to the strategy.

We want to hear from you on how we can work together to create more work opportunities for students.

Questions such as what priority actions can the Government take to help you produce work-ready graduates?

How can we work together to help business get more involved?

What online resources could we provide international students at a national level to get them thinking early about their career and help them start a career here?

The answers to these questions will be an important part of finalising the Draft National Strategy for International Education.

For my part, as the Minister responsible for the VET sector, where we have around 150,000 international students in Australia last year – about one quarter of all enrolments – I’m determined to make sure that we are successful in expanding their education services overseas as well as here in Australia and providing training in the languages that help lead to Australian qualifications.

We’re working hard in our region and domestically to ensure Australia is a leader and innovator in international skills policy and system design.

I’m determined to ensure that the VET sector has its voice heard through the national strategy consultations which is why I’ll be hosting a roundtable on international VET in Melbourne next Tuesday, and am looking to host further roundtables in Adelaide and Sydney later this year just as I know Minister Pyne is engaging with the university sector.

We have a strong platform to build on, but require ambitious, innovative approaches to creating work opportunities so we continue to produce quality, employable graduates.

The sustainability of the international education sector and the reputation of our world-class education depend on it.

I want to thank you for the effort that you all go to, wish you well in today’s discussions and look forward very much to hearing the outcome of your discussions and to the important role they play in the finalisation of our strategy.

Thank you very much.

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