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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4282


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (3:52 PM) —by leave—International education has made a significant contribution to Australia. It has grown to now be our third largest source of overseas earnings, generating $15.5 billion in 2008 and supporting more than 125,000 jobs. In 2008, nearly half a million students came to Australia. 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. From the early days of the Colombo Plan through to the current day Endeavour scholarships, we have provided scholarship opportunities to students from across the Asia-Pacific. Many have gone on to be leaders in their own countries and the contacts and relationships they forged as young students have proved of invaluable benefit to us.

Australian government support for international education

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 2009, I announced the Study in Australia 2010 strategy, a $3.5 million drive to support Australia’s 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 Australian government’s 2009-10 budget continues our drive for a world-class education system, planting the seeds for Australia’s future growth and positioning Australia as an education leader, with modern facilities and high-quality teaching.

Australia has a long record of providing scholarships. Our Endeavour scholarships are internationally competitive, merit-based scholarships providing opportunities for citizens of the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Europe and the Americas to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia. Importantly, awards are also available for Australians to do the same abroad.

The Endeavour scholarships have recently been enhanced by the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Awards, a $14.9 million initiative over four years that will further enhance the internationalisation of Australian education. These new awards will develop internationally-aware, skilled future leaders in Australia, build human capital within Australian businesses and contribute to productivity gains and innovations, establish enduring education and professional linkages and develop a network of people across Asia which has a strong affinity to Australia.

Moving forward—focusing on two key areas

Today I want to focus on two aspects of international education which I believe will be fundamentally important to the future of Australian international education: quality and the student experience.

To remain competitive we need to:

  • continue to enhance our quality education and training system and ensure that Australia’s reputation for world-class education is maintained and strengthened; and
  • further improve student experiences, particularly students’ living experiences and safety.

Quality—a cornerstone

Australia needs a highly regarded, high-quality and internationally relevant education and training system, one which provides students, both Australian and international, with the skills and knowledge they need to participate fully in our globally engaged economy and society.

The Bradley review found that the future of Australia’s higher education system rests on continuing to ensure its quality and reputation. In responding to the Bradley review the Australian government has committed to the creation of Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA), which will oversee the new framework for quality assurance and regulation. It 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. Australia 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 states and territories on these issues. This strong relationship has resulted in initiatives like the recent program 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 that the Australian 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 Australian government will also review the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 in 2010-11 in consultation with state and territory governments, the sector and students. The review will make sure that the framework for regulation of overseas education meets world’s best standards before it becomes the responsibility of TEQSA.

I am also working with my colleague Senator the Hon. Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, on student integrity measures to support genuine students to come to Australia to realise the benefits of an Australian education.

Student experience—a cornerstone

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 was personally particularly disturbed by recent violent incidents 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 Australian government is working with state and territory governments, through its Joint Committee on International Education, to enhance the student experience. This group is:

  • building on the learnings from the Victorian and New South Wales task forces to improve the experience of international students nationally;
  • identifying and addressing gaps in support services and information for international students, including addressing the question of the performance of education agents; and
  • addressing key concerns around social inclusion, safety and accommodation, including by promoting greater diversity and raising Australians’ understanding of the benefits of international education.

Today I am announcing that 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. I will shortly call for expressions of interest from those wanting to participate in the round table. Participants will be selected on the basis of their ability to represent the views of international students. The round table will include participants from across all international education and training sectors, and all states and territories. With over 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, and 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.

Conclusion

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.

In this parliament today—and I am sure, in this regard, I speak for all members of this parliament—I also want to send a message loud and clear that international students are very welcome in this nation and Australia will not tolerate discrimination against or victimisation of any of our international students.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Boothby to speak for 12 minutes.

Leave granted.


Ms GILLARD —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Dr Southcott speaking in reply to the ministerial statement for a period not exceeding 12 minutes.

Question agreed to.