Release type: Speech


Australia India Institute Annual Oration


The Hon Jason Clare MP
Minister for Education

Gandhinagar, INDIA


Last time I was here I told the story of a little girl who was found on a train.

On her own. She was four years old. And she was left there by her parents. Hoping, I guess, that someone would find her.

Someone did find her. It was the Salaam Blaak Trust. They fed her. Housed her. Cared for her. And they educated her.

Today that little girl is a fashion designer. She has worked in Paris and in some of India’s biggest fashion houses. Now she is starting her own brand.

Her name is Khushboo.

I didn’t know it when I told that story but Khushboo was in the audience that night.

The next day she took me back to the place where she grew up. She showed me the dormitory where she slept. The classrooms where she learnt.

She showed me the place and the people who saved her. That made her.

That’s just one life. One story. But it shows what good people can do. And what education can do.

My friend, Indian Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, describes our jobs as the ‘mother portfolio’. The portfolio that makes everything else possible.

There is a real truth in that.

A good education makes everything possible. Khushboo’s story is proof of that.

A good education system can change more than just lives. It can change nations.

I know my friend, Dhamendra knows that. That’s what India’s National Education Policy is all about.

I am still shocked by the boldness of it. By the audaciousness of it.

It will mean that by the middle of next decade one in four people around the world that get a university degree will get it in India.

That by the middle of this century there will be 90 million students in university here in India. 

That is nation changing stuff.

We know that in Australia, because that’s our story too.

When I was little boy barely 35 per cent of children finished high school. Now it’s about 80 per cent.

Back then only 7.9 per cent of young Australian adults had a university degree. Now it’s almost half.

All of that has happened in my lifetime. And it has made us a different country.

Stronger, smarter, wealthier.

Different jobs, different industries and a different economy.

Truth be told though, this is a story only half told. This change is still happening.

Nine of out of ten new jobs being created in Australia today require a university degree or a vocational qualification.

That means in the years ahead, even more Australians will need to finish high school and then go to TAFE or university.

Just like here in India, it means a significant increase in the number of students at university by the middle of this century.

And that’s what the work I am doing back at home is all about. Setting us up for this future. That requires reform not just to higher education, but to school education and to early education too.

A better and fairer education system, for a better and fairer country.

One that helps ensure that no one is held back and no one is left behind.

What India is doing here though is on a totally different scale.

Back home 300,000 Australians will turn 18 this year.

Here in India, 1 million people will turn 18 this month. Half a billion are under the age of 23.

The sheer scale of this makes it an enormous challenge.

But there is a challenge in this for us too.

When Dharmendra and I met in Sydney last year he spoke at an event like this at the University of New South Wales.

My old university.

The event was the top floor of my old law school. It was a warm night. Not as warm as tonight, but the weather was good and you could see far into the distance.

That night Dharmendra talked to a group of Australian university leaders about his National Education Policy and he laid down a challenge for Australia to be part of this endeavour. To be partners in this nation changing effort.

To set up campuses here in India, so that more Indian students could study at an Australian university right here in India.

That challenge didn’t just drift off into the warm Sydney night sky.

It was heard. It was heeded by our universities.

Five months later I came to India with a delegation of ten Vice-Chancellors and a bloke named Adam Gilchrist.

We signed the Memorandum for the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications and we announced that the University of Wollongong would set up a campus here in GIFT City.

The next week Prime Minister Albanese was here with Prime Minister Modi and they announced that Deakin would do the same.

And it hasn’t taken long to turn commitments into concrete.

Today we saw those two new campuses coming to life.

And this is just the start. There are other Australian universities ready to take up the challenge.

The seriousness of Australian universities is also visible by the calibre of the people who have joined me on this trip and are in the room tonight:

  • Professor Iain Martin – Vice-Chancellor, Deakin University
  • Professor Patricia Davidson – Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Wollongong
  • Professor Peter Høj AC – Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Renèe Leon PSM – Vice-Chancellor and President, Charles Sturt University
  • Professor Pascale Quester – Vice-Chancellor and President, Swinburne University of Technology
  • Professor Adam Shoemaker – Vice-Chancellor and President, Victoria University
  • Professor Susan Elliott AM – Interim Vice-Chancellor and President, Monash University
  • Professor Mark Hoffman – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and Vice-President, University of Newcastle
  • Mr Iain Watt – Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (International), University of Technology Sydney
  • Ms Jodi McKay – Director, Australia-India CEO Forum and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow South Asia, Western Sydney University
  • The Hon Lisa Singh – Chief Executive Officer, Australia India Institute
  • Ms Catriona Jackson – Chief Executive Officer, Universities Australia
  • Ms Vicki Thomson – Chief Executive Officer and Director, Group of Eight
  • The Hon Phil Honeywood – Chief Executive Officer, International Education Association of Australia
  • Mr Paul Harris – Executive Director, Innovative Research Universities

They are, as Pascale said today, the future makers.

It’s not just universities that heard your challenge though Dharmendra. I heard it too.

And that’s this: A Partnership for the Future, Australia’s Education Strategy for India, that we launched yesterday.

We got a lot done in the last few days.

  • Four new agreements were signed between Australian and Indian universities.
  • We launched the new $11 million Maitri Scholars Program that will give the best and brightest young Indian researchers the chance to complete their PHDs and Masters in Australia.
  • We focused on the research collaboration we do today and where we can make a difference together, particularly in areas like critical minerals.
  • And with the outcomes of the first Australia India Education and Skills Council, we have set out a roadmap for the next 12 months.

And Lisa, you will be glad to hear, I can also announce tonight, funding for the work of the Australia India Institute out to 2026.

All of this strengthens the ties between our two great countries.

Australia and India are good friends and this is a friendship that goes back a long time.

When we were in New Delhi in March Dharmendra, we drove from the India Gate along the Katavya Path.

Past the Parliament.

To the North Block of the Secretariat where we stopped.

And we got out the car.

At the main gate of the North Block, there is a red stone column.

One of four gifted to India in 1930.

This one was gifted by Australia to celebrate the inauguration of New Delhi.

It was unveiled by Sir John Monash. A great Australian general. A hero of the first World War. So great an Australian one of our universities bears his name.

At the unveiling, he spoke of the friendship and kinship between the Australian and Indian people.

When I see you in Australia next year, I hope to take you to another place. To Greenway Park in Cherrybrook in the north-west suburbs of Sydney.

There, there is a monument with the names of twelve Indian Australians on it. All but one were born here in India. All died in Australian uniforms on the battlefields of World War One.

Some might have been commanded by Monash.

A lot has changed since then.

Today one in 26 Australians can trace their roots back to here.

Punjabi is the fastest growing language in Australia.

Hinduism is the fastest growing religion.

We have more Indian residents per capita than any other country in the OECD.

And that living bridge has helped bind our two countries closer today than ever before.

It is my hope, in the work we have done in the last two days, and the work we will all do together in the years ahead, in the mother portfolio, that we can strengthen these ties even more.

That we can make the future together.

Thank you very much.