Business Higher Education Round Table (BHERT)

Speech
  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

Destination Australia: Tapping into a New Generation of International Business Students

Introduction

It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss aspects of the role of Government in the future of international education in Australia. This includes ensuring that Australia is as attractive as possible as a study destination for international business students.

I would like to begin by thanking the Business Higher Education Round Table in collaboration with CPA and the Institute of Chartered Accountants for the important and constructive roles that they play in discussing and promoting the future of higher education in this country.

The Business/Higher Education Round Table has for many years brought together leaders in business and higher education to discuss key issues. Just to give one example: in July last year, B/HERT hosted at the University of Technology, Sydney, a forum that was a significant step in the consultative process that shaped the New Colombo Plan – the Government’s signature initiative to encourage and support Australian undergraduates to study abroad in the Asia-Pacific region, combined wherever possible with an internship or mentorship arrangement in a business, non-government or government organisation.

A sincere thank you to Dr Sharon Winocur, B/HERT Executive Director, for her important contribution, and to Bill Scales, B/HERT president, who served – alongside Phil Honeywood of the International Education Association of Australia - on the New Colombo Plan steering group in designing the policy and the reference group now in its implementation.

Amongst the contributions that CPA Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia – the two major professional accounting bodies in Australia - have made to higher education, was their joint submission to the review of the demand-driven system of higher education funding undertaken by Dr David Kemp and Mr Andrew Norton.

The joint submission of the two professional accounting bodies argued, and I quote:

“There is clear evidence that the demand driven system is advancing its goals of participation and equity. It is imperative that the system is not only retained but improved. …

The submission further argued:

“To be fully effective it is insufficient to deregulate by removing caps on the quantity of Commonwealth supported places but to leave prices untouched. Course fees should be uncapped alongside the uncapping of student places.”

It argued that “this is a necessary … step towards encouraging quality and specialisation, rather than the perverse incentive for all to achieve volume in all fields of higher education under current arrangements.”

But these are not the only areas in which the submission pointed to reforms that Australia needs, and which the Government is delivering in its higher education reform package. CPA Australia and the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia also argued:

“The current application of the demand driven system to undergraduate courses encourages students along the direct pathway of school to higher education when for many the indirect pathway via TAFE and sub-degree programmes may better support their participation and success. We support extending the system’s breadth to include these pathways. The support available under it should likewise be extended to the growing numbers of students attending private institutions.”

This submission from the two accounting bodies was a truly valuable contribution to the Kemp-Norton review, pointing the way to necessary reforms.

That submission also pointed to the importance to Australia of international education. The Government is passionately committed to international education. We see it as a two-way street that benefits both our society and economy.

International students who come to Australia bring different views and cultures that we can learn from.  Australia earns valuable export income by providing education to international students.

Australian students studying overseas experience other cultures and different perspectives, and develop friendships and contacts.  These contacts can lead to lifelong partnerships that will benefit our society and economy well into the future.

The flow of students both ways builds knowledge and understanding for individuals and nations.

However, Australian higher education and research are at risk of being left behind and overtaken by the growing university systems in our region.

We must aspire to not only keep up with our competitors, but keep ahead of them.

The role of government is to create the context in which our universities and other educational institutions can provide the best education possible – to Australian and international students.

To compete in the dynamic, global enterprise of international education, Australia needs:

  • world-leading higher education and research
  • international partnerships
  • students and graduates who can move between countries
  • universities and colleges making the most of new opportunities, and
  • leadership so the Australian international education community works together.

Today, I will discuss ways in which the Government is supporting these objectives.

World leading, quality higher education

The Government is committed to building an Australian higher education system that is among the world’s best. Indeed, my goal is to do all I can to help Australia to develop the best higher education system in the world.
The higher education and research reform package announced in this year’s Budget will spread opportunities to more Australian students and ensure Australia is not left behind.

 

Spreading opportunities for students

Students are the big winners of the higher education and reform package. The Government is determined to support more young Australians to get a good education and contribute to our society and the economy through their skills and research.
For the first time in Australian history, students studying at any registered higher education provider will have their place directly supported by the Australian Government.  This includes higher education students at public and private universities, TAFEs and private education colleges. It also includes all accredited higher education diplomas and advanced diplomas as well as associate degrees and degrees.

These reforms will expand options and pathways for students less well prepared for university, while funding a wide range of qualifications that lead straight into jobs.

Under the Government’s reforms students from disadvantaged backgrounds will have access to the largest Commonwealth Scholarship scheme ever.  Higher education institutions will be required to allocate one dollar in every five dollars of additional revenue they raise from student contributions to this new Commonwealth Scholarships scheme.

Universities and higher education institutions will provide individual, tailored, support to students.  This will include needs-based scholarships to help meet costs of living as well as fee exemptions, mentoring, tutorial support and other assistance at critical points in their study.

We are also eliminating the loan fees that apply when students borrow to study under the VET FEE-HELP and FEE-HELP schemes. This will mean a level playing field for students, rather than the current unfair arrangements.

Students are not required to make any payments upfront.  They take out a loan from the taxpayer through the Higher Education Loan Programme and only begin to make repayments after they are earning over $50,000.

For the first time apprentices will also have access to HECS-style loans through the Government’s Trade Support Loans programme. This will encourage more young people to take up a trade and complete their qualification.

Universities and other higher education institutions will compete to attract students, not least because they will be able to set their own tuition fees for the courses they offer.  And when higher education institutions compete for students, students win.
These new arrangements will mean our smartest students can receive a world-class education no matter what their background and where they are from.

International students will benefit from greater choice and higher quality in Australian higher education.

Ensuring Australia is not left behind

The Government’s reform package has been designed to ensure Australian higher education and research is not left behind in intensifying international competition.

This risk has been highlighted by Universities Australia’s in their campaign Keep it Clever.

Five years ago there were no Chinese universities in the top 200 universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Today there are five. In the same period only one Australian university has entered the top 200, joining six Australian universities already there.

We risk falling behind in international education.  Under the previous government international student enrolments fell between 2009 and 2013. Annual export earnings from education declined from almost $19 billion to just over $15 billion in the same period.

Student enrolments in Management and Commerce - the most popular discipline for international students in higher education - declined by 10 per cent between 2010 and 2013.

We are well aware of the significant competition for international students by our major traditional competitors such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and New Zealand.

In a competitive global economy, we need to make sure our higher education keeps pace with the best in the world. Young people studying in Australia need to know that their degree can take them anywhere.

We need a relentless focus on the quality and impact of our universities and colleges.

After the downturn of recent years, it is good to see encouraging signs of international students’ growing interest in coming to Australia to study.

This year, international student enrolments in all sectors have increased by almost 10 per cent. This includes a 16.6 per cent increase in the number of newly commencing higher education students.

International higher education enrolments in business-related courses grew by 5 per cent.

These are good results but there is scope for further improvement.

Freedom for universities

Under our reforms, universities and higher education colleges will be able to set their own direction. More freedom and less red tape will allow them to be creative and play to their strengths.

According to the World Bank, a world-class higher education institution needs a high concentration of talent, resources from diverse sources and the ability to make decisions and manage resources without unnecessary red tape. Such governance arrangements encourage strategic vision, innovation and flexibility.

I want a system that provides world-leading teaching and research with some of our universities being among the very best in the world.

Better information

Our reforms will deliver better information about Australian higher education.

The greatest driver of quality will be competition for students between universities and colleges – as I said earlier, when institutions compete for students, students win.

To support this competition, we will provide clear information for students and families about the quality of courses and institutions they are considering.  There will be better information about how successful previous graduates have been at finding jobs and what other students and employers think of the course.

This will be in the form of the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching that were recommended by the committee chaired by Professor Ian O’Connor, Vice-Chancellor of Griffith University. The indicators are the University Experience Survey, the Graduate Outcomes Survey, and a new Employer Satisfaction Survey.

Not only will this information help students in their choices of course and higher education institution; it will also enable Australia to compare its performance in higher education against the United States of America, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. By comparing our performance with other countries, we should learn lessons about how we can do better and better.

A new website presenting this and other information will be online later this year with full implementation by August 2015.

Research reforms

Australia has a long-standing reputation for producing world-class research, including in fields such as medicine, biology, agriculture, water management and mining.  Amongst other contributions, as many people here will know, this research helps our successful businesses grow and increase their earnings and boosts Australia’s overseas exports. Research helps create jobs in Australia.

Research infrastructure – equipment, buildings, and technology – is important to support this world-class research.

However, the previous government left us with funding cliffs for vital research programmes.  They did not set aside a single dollar for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy beyond 30 June next year.

There was a similar situation for the Future Fellowships programme that supports mid-career researchers to undertake world-leading research in Australia. There was no provision for any new awards to be made from 2015 onwards.
Without this funding we would be unable to continue our work to address the world’s most pressing problems and challenges.

We addressed these funding cliffs in the Budget.

National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS)

The Government has provided $150 million in 2015-16 to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

NCRIS supports major research infrastructure to encourage collaboration between the Australian researchers, industry and governments.  This makes the best use of our investment and delivers lasting returns to Australia. 
This investment is supported by the findings of the National Commission of Audit that ‘Quality research infrastructure is a critical component of Australia’s research and development system.’

In line with these findings a review of research infrastructure provision and needs will commence in the near future.

Future Fellowships

The Government will also fund 100 outstanding mid-career researchers every year through the Future Fellowships Scheme. These researchers will each receive funding for four years to undertake their vital research.

The funding will reduce the risk of ‘brain-drain’ where our best researchers can leave Australia for jobs overseas. This will contribute to maintaining Australia’s long-standing reputation for producing world-leading research.

Future Fellowships will be an ongoing programme and $139.5 million has been provided for this over the next four years.

Consultation

The higher education and research reforms have been the result of extensive national discussion and consultation.

This includes the review of the demand-driven system by Dr David Kemp and Andrew Norton that received over 80 submissions.

It also includes the findings of the Commission of Audit that received more than 20 submissions from universities and their peak bodies.

And, the extensive debate in this country over many years about the kinds of reforms that are necessary both to expand opportunity for students and to ensure that Australia isn’t left behind in international competition.

The move to the new arrangements will be carefully planned and consultative.

The Government will continue to work with the stakeholders within higher education and research to develop the details for implementation.

The Department of Education has established a nine-member Legislation and Financing Working Group.

Chaired by Professor John Dewar from La Trobe University, the working group will inform the consultation process to be undertaken by my department.

My department has established another working group to focus on quality, deregulation and information. The TEQSA Advisory Council members have kindly agreed to form the core of this working group with Professor Peter Shergold as Chair. The Council will be joined by Professor Ian O’Connor, chair of the Australian Quality in Higher Education Reference Group, and Dr Don Owers, chair of the Council of Private Higher Education.

One of its members is Phil Honeywood, national executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, and a person with extensive knowledge and experience of the full range of universities and colleges. We are very grateful for his contribution.

International partnerships

Australia’s international education reputation relies on strong partnerships.

Partnerships can take place at various levels: government to government, institution to institution, though researchers working together and businesses working with education and research institutions.

Government to government engagement

The Government’s role is to cultivate and facilitate international partnerships in education.  We pursue Australian interests through close relationships with foreign education ministries and institutions.

The Australian Government builds confidence in the Australian system and providers, and opens doors for Australian education providers.  We ensure an understanding of Australian quality and strengths and tackle obstacles to mobility, recognition of Australian qualifications and offshore delivery. We work closely with foreign governments, resolving issues behind the scenes and also through formal agreements.

The Government also advances international engagement through international diplomacy and trade policy. Negotiations of free trade agreements can create opportunities for Australian education exporters to expand into new markets.

Institution to institution collaboration

Institution to institution partnerships are important aspects of Australia’s international education mission.

We encourage and support universities and higher education providers in establishing their own international partnerships so that they can exchange staff and improve cooperation in science, research and development.

Of course, universities and colleges are usually best placed to decide on the most beneficial international arrangements.  That way the partnerships can be tailored to meet specific needs and strategic priorities.

Australian universities and colleges partner with overseas universities and colleges to support Australian students studying overseas and international students studying in Australia.  These include scholarship and exchange programmes.

The institutions and the students benefit from these programmes through sharing information and experiences and improved research capabilities.  The reputation of the institution is also enhanced.

Our Budget changes will give universities and colleges more freedom to set their own directions to play to their strengths in both Australia and in international education.

Research collaboration

Researchers who work with colleagues across the world share international knowledge and expertise, have access to world-leading infrastructure, and are at the forefront of efforts to address global challenges.

The Government’s commitment to research programmes such as NCRIS, Future Fellowships and the Australian Research Council is vital to Australia’s ongoing international research collaboration.

Australia’s strategic and collaborative approach to national research infrastructure through NCRIS is a strong base to develop international links and join global research infrastructure networks.  Currently through NCRIS links have been established with researchers in 29 countries.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) encourages international research collaboration and provides many opportunities for international researchers to partner with Australian researchers across several funding schemes of the National Competitive Grants Programme.

In 2012 to 2013 more than 60 per cent of new ARC-funded projects involved international collaboration, amounting to over 7000 instances of Australian researchers engaging with the global research community.

Australia’s readiness to engage in internationally significant research collaborations attracts international students and has the potential to attract more.

Industry and business collaboration

Many universities and colleges already have good linkages with business. And many leading businesses partner with universities and colleges.

For instance, Curtin University’s Business School has partnered with an extensive network of more than 70 business professionals to ensure its teaching and research remains practical and highly relevant to the work place.

In April this year, Westpac announced the launch of the largest private education scholarship programme in Australia’s history.  The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation sees $100 million invested in university scholarships – a brilliant initiative, which I hope will encourage others.

Work integrated learning – where students learn through work and work-like experience - is also an important part of a world-leading higher education system.

It is a significant factor international students consider when they are making their decision on where to study.

Those universities and colleges that can build successful links with business will have a greater chance of thriving in the new higher education system.

Students will want to study at universities and colleges that have work-relevant courses and real work opportunities.

I’m pleased to see the universities and business working together in a variety of ways. In February this year, Universities Australia, along with the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Collaborative Education Network Limited issued a statement of intent around work integrated learning.

This new approach aims to improve the work readiness of university graduates and enhance opportunities for them to develop and apply their skills in the workplace. It will enable employers to better utilise the skills of their workforce. It will foster an environment where entrepreneurship and innovation can thrive; and strengthen partnerships to drive Australia’s national competitiveness.

 

Philanthropy

There is an important place for philanthropy in supporting the world’s best higher education providers.

We have seen some inspiring donations in recent years – amongst them:

  • Chuck Feeney’s numerous donations to various universities;
  • Graham and Louise Tuckwell’s $50 million to the ANU;
  • Clive Berghofer’s $50.1 million to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research;
  • Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s $65 million to Western Australian universities; and
  • Westpac’s $100 million scholarship fund to which I have already referred.

The Government’s new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme I discussed earlier will encourage more philanthropic donations to universities.

In the future I expect to see increasing support from business, alumni and the wider community, in the form of philanthropy, research partnerships, and commercial ventures.

Alumni

Networks of alumni play a critical role in deepening and broadening relationships across the region.

With so many international students coming to Australia over recent decades – since the original Colombo Plan, and then the major growth of international student numbers in the last quarter-century – we have large numbers of alumni of Australian educational institutions in very many countries in our region and far beyond.

Many of these alumni now hold influential roles in government or business throughout the world.

In these roles they talk about and reflect on their positive study experiences in Australia.  This significantly contributes to the reputation of Australian education and qualifications.

The lifelong people-to-people links established through alumni networks foster innovative business and research partnerships, which lead to diverse international collaborations.

The New Colombo Plan

Already through the signature initiative that I mentioned earlier, the New Colombo Plan, hundreds of students are studying and undertaking work experience placements in Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Last month the Government announced that a further 1000 students will have the opportunity to study in the region through the second round of funding for the scheme.

The New Colombo Plan has also been given the highest levels of support with the former Governor-General, Her Excellency Dame Quentin Bryce, and now His Excellency General Sir Peter Cosgrove, agreeing to be the plan’s patron.

The New Colombo Plan aims to transform the mindset of Australian, students and families to embrace the opportunity to undertake study abroad in the Asia-Pacific region, and to make studying in the region a ‘rite of passage’ for Australian undergraduates. It is the Government’s hope that this greatly increased presence of Australian students throughout our region will in turn encourage increased interest in Australian universities, and further encourage international students to come to Australia.

A supportive student visa programme

The Government recognises that we need better visa arrangements to enable genuine international students to study in Australia.

We have already announced amendments to the Student Visa Assessment Level Framework, reducing the number of assessment levels from five to three and decreasing the financial evidence burden for many students.

In March 2014 we extended access to streamlined visa processing arrangements to 19 non-university institutions.

Further, only a few weeks ago, the Government announced an extension of the streamlined visa processing to students enrolled in advanced diploma level courses at low immigration risk providers. Based on 2012-13 data, around 50 providers will be invited to participate.

These changes are particularly important to potential Management and Commerce students looking to study at Australia’s vocational education institutions.

 

Qualifications recognition

To support the two way flow of students into and out of Australia it is vital that Australian higher education qualifications are recognised overseas and, where possible, Australia recognises qualifications of other countries.

The Australian Government is in constant conversation with other governments and institutions to further expand qualifications recognition.

Our hosts today, CPA Australia and Institute of Chartered Accountants, have the important role of being assessing authorities for various accounting occupations on the skilled migration list.

Foreign language proficiency

Knowing how to speak a foreign language is an important skill when we operate in a global economy.  It also encourages students to study overseas. We have initiatives to encourage foreign language study at early childhood, schools, and higher education levels.

Under our Students First school education package, the Government is reviving the teaching of foreign languages in Australian schools, ensuring that at least 40 per cent of Year 12 students are studying a language other than English within a decade.
As part of this plan we are promoting the recruitment of more specialist language teachers, both from Australia and overseas through skilled migration.

And, in higher education, late last year we announced up to 2,000 new places for students undertaking diplomas of language to encourage more higher education students to study a second language. The uncapping of diploma places in the higher education reform package will give considerable opportunity for promoting language study at university – an opportunity I know that has been greeted with enthusiasm by many involved in promoting language study.

Leadership so the Australian international education community works together

Rebuilding Australian international education requires a coordinated commitment by governments, industry, universities and colleges.

The Australian Government’s role is to provide and facilitate leadership in this area. We are very grateful to the International Education Advisory Council, chaired by Michael Chaney AO, for their advice on this.

The Government has committed to develop a national strategy for international education.

To develop the national strategy we will seek views from the community, business and education providers.  We want their input on what we should seek to achieve in international education and what the barriers are.

I expect a robust discussion about how we can meet the challenges arising from the dynamic global environment and seize the opportunities they present.

Conclusion

This is an exciting time for international education and for education generally in this country.

We all know the benefits of education for individuals, for employers and for communities.  And through stronger international education we will generate ongoing cultural enrichment and economic growth for the nation.

The Government’s higher education and research reforms will ensure Australia has world-leading higher education and research that spreads opportunity and ensures Australia does not get left behind.

The Government is working to achieve productive partnerships and two way flow of people through its own programmes and initiatives.  It is also encouraging education providers and business to make the most of opportunities in these areas.

In the second half of the year, I will release a national strategy for international education for consultation.  This will help to guide Australian international education into the future.

We want to make sure all potential international students view Australia as a desirable destination where they can have a world-leading, quality higher education and living experience. We want them to have an educational experience here that they will remember warmly and from which they will benefit throughout their lives.

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