AUSTRALIA: International education's contribution

International education has made a significant contribution to Australia. It has grown to become our third largest source of overseas earnings, generating $15.5 billion in 2008 and supporting more than 125,000 jobs. In 2008, nearly 500,000 students came to Australia and it is the lead sector in terms of export earnings in Victoria and the second largest in New South Wales.

But international students do much more than contribute to our economy and create jobs. They build on Australia's long multicultural history that has created a friendly, tolerant and secular country. International students enrich our society. They help to provide a diverse and rich education experience for Australians. This diversity enables our education institutions to offer a much wider range of courses and campus facilities.

People coming to Australia to study and Australians studying abroad promote cross cultural experiences that benefit us both now and in the future, building understanding that underpins tolerance and stability here and abroad. The relationships formed by students support long-lasting diplomatic, research and business links.

The Australian government has provided significant support to facilitate the development and growth of the highly regarded international education sector we now have. We have done this through an integrated approach to policy, regulation, international engagement and promotion, both here in Australia and overseas, using our international network of counsellors.

In March, I announced the Study in Australia 2010 strategy, a $3.5 million drive to support the international education and training sector during the global recession. It is underpinned by four key themes: showcasing Australian education and training excellence, positioning Australia in the global market, enhancing the student experience, and supporting the Australian international education sector.

The Bradley review of higher education found that the future of Australia's higher education system rests on continuing to ensure its quality and reputation. In response, the government has committed to establishing the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency which will oversee the new framework for quality assurance and regulation.

The agency will accredit providers, carry out audits of standards and performance and streamline current regulatory arrangements and provide for national consistency. A national approach to regulation and quality assurance will mean Australia's knowledge and skills needs can be met in a more efficient and transparent way, enabling higher education providers to focus on what they do best - providing quality higher education.

Australia offers students a high quality education and a choice of education providers [but we] cannot afford poor quality provision of services damaging the international reputation of our education and training. The government has developed a close working relationship with the state and territories on these issues [and] this has resulted in initiatives like the recent programme of targeted swift audits by the Victorian government. We will work with other states to implement similar initiatives.

As part of a strengthened compliance regime, we are increasing our scrutiny of education providers. Our focus is to assist them to better understand their legislative obligations, through workshops and other educative material, at the same time ensuring that providers are fully aware the government will not hesitate to use the full extent of its legislative powers to sanction those that breach the law.

To further enhance quality and protect students, the government will also review the Education Services for Overseas Act 2000 in 2010-11 in consultation with state and territory governments, the sector and students. The review will make sure the framework for regulation of overseas education meets world's best standards before it becomes the responsibility of our new TEQSA.

I am aware of and am concerned about the reports in the media of international students' safety being compromised and of their having unsatisfactory experiences while in Australia. I am personally particularly disturbed by a recent violent incident which occurred in my own electorate.

Most international students report that they do feel satisfied with their social experience while in Australia. However reports of any violence or discrimination directed at international students can do much damage to our international reputation as a welcoming country.

The government is working with state and territory governments, through its joint committee on international education to enhance the student experience, to improve the experience of international students nationally to indentify and address gaps in support services and to address key concerns around social inclusion, safety and accommodation, including promoting greater diversity and raising Australians' understanding of the benefits of international education.

The government will invite international student representatives to participate in a round table to discuss issues affecting their study experience such as accommodation, welfare and safety. I will also be asking the round table to consider how the government can best hear and respond to their views on these and other issues of vital concern to international students, on a continuing basis.

The roundtable will include participants from across all international education and training sectors, and all states and territories. With more than 430,000 international students visiting Australia annually, it is important to me that their views and concerns are heard and addressed by government.

The outcome of this round table, along with other international education issues, will inform discussions with state and territory education ministers at the inaugural meeting of the Ministerial Council on Tertiary Education later this year. We will agree on what more needs to be done to promote and protect Australia's reputation as a safe destination for top quality study and research.

I am committed to working towards a sustainable international education sector that delivers high quality, internationally-recognised courses which maximise international students' experiences and outcome. I want international education to continue to positively contribute to Australia's productivity, participation and society.

* Julia Gillard is Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister. This is an edited version of a speech she gave in the parliament last week.


Unfortunately, Australia's reputation as a leader in providing educational opportunities to overseas students has taken a beating by the recent attacks and mindless violence on Indian students, which led to about 10,000 students protesting in front of the Parliament House in Melbourne and the Indian External Affairs Minister summoning the Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi to register the Indian government''s strong protest. Australian cricketers are known to sledge and be unfriendly to overseas teams visiting Australia. But racial attacks against students have come as a shock.

Subbiah Arunachalam
Chennai, India

Very interesting and a good insight on the internationalisation of Australian universities through proper management of international students. We in Malaysia just undertook a simliar project to look at the problems faced by international students and it seemed that the social problems may mar the total learning experience. It is good to note that we are also taking a similar line of action as proposed by you. Hope there will be more
articles on how best to overcome social problems faced by international students.

Yang Farina