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Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Page: 8287

Overseas Students

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Tourism and International Education, Senator Colbeck. Will the minister advise the Senate of the importance of international education to Australia?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:43): I thank Senator McKenzie for her question. We all very well understand her interest in education as an issue within Australia but also international education. International education is a vital part of the Australian economy. It contributes in excess of $18 billion to the Australian economy every year and supports in excess of 130,000 jobs. But it does more than that. It creates important relationships with those who have been here to undertake that international education and also, with the reverse Colombo Plan, provides the opportunity for students to travel to other nations and develop relationships over there. The students, while they are here, make a significant contribution to the Australian economy. In fact, in the context of tourism, there are 2.3 visitations per student per year for tourism purposes that come directly out of the international education offering.

I was in the Cook Islands just a couple of weeks ago conducting negotiations with Pacific island nations around the PACER Plus program. The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands happened to have been educated at the University of Tasmania. It became a very, very easy conversation, to sit down and have a discussion with him about trade negotiations, because of that relationship and the fact that he was an alumnus of the University of Tasmania. The trade minister from Tonga, I think it was, also did his degree at the University of Tasmania. So there are a number of people who have obviously come to Australia for their education, and it makes it very easy for us to conduct those relationships that we are building around the region because of the links that have been built out of international education.

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:45): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister inform the Senate of how the government is working with stakeholders to help increase international education?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:45): At this point in time the government is developing Australia's first ever National Strategy for International Education. It is a very important piece of work, involving broad consultation with government and stakeholders across the education sector. We also need to talk to the users of the education system—so students and industry. We want to ensure that the international education sector here in Australia is as innovative as possible. In fact, in Darwin, during the discussions that Senator Macdonald talked about a few moments ago, I talked to someone who was looking at developing the Uber of the education sector. These are the sorts of things that we are working on with industry and the sector to develop so that we can have a dynamic and important industry that is reflective of and is responsive to the needs of students.

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (14:46): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister outline to the Senate what other ways the government is helping to make Australia the destination of choice for more international students?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Tourism and International Education and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:47): One of the key things that we are doing is opening up new markets for education. Things like the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which passed through this parliament only this week, provide enormous opportunities for growth and the development of relationships with new countries in international education. In fact, I think the work that Minister Robb is doing right now on a further free trade agreement with India will further open opportunities for the growth of the international education sector and also make Australia a destination of choice. We have a significant offering here: we have a safe environment, we have a high-quality education system which is recognised in that context globally and we also have in place protections for international students that provide them with securities that they do not have in other jurisdictions. We have the Tuition Protection Service, which provides the most comprehensive protection assurance to students, giving them protection that is not seen in other countries. (Time expired)