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Speech by Professor Deryck Schreuder, president of the Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee to the 16th Australian International Education Conference, 30 September to 4 October 2002

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Professor Deryck Schreuder


Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee


The 16th Australian International Education Conference

Hobart, 30 September-4 October, 2002

(please check against delivery)


I wish to acknowledge at the outset of this address, the original

Indigenous landowners of this site.

The future of Australian higher education is poised at a significant moment.

The Federal Government’s Review is nearing completion. Final submissions

in response to the seven issues papers released by the government are now

before those who will determine the future of our system.

The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee has declared its position, in

some detail, as to where we see the sector heading, but also why it is such a

critical part of the fabric of this country.

Fundamental reform is now a real possibility.

Importantly, the Federal Government has added higher education to its nine

key policy reform areas for its third term of office. Indeed the Prime

Minister told the Federal Parliament in June this year that, as it relates to the

review, “We are going to have a proper examination and, when that

examination is completed, we will be announcing policy which will be to the

long-term benefit of the tertiary education institutions of this nation and to

the long-term benefit of current and aspiring tertiary education students.”


The Federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, has acknowledged the

significance higher education plays in shaping this country, saying, and I

quote, “ what is done about higher education will determine what Australia

will be like 20 to 30 years from now. It’s about our future.” (Financial

Review, September 16)

The need for reform to the sector has been well and truly recognised. The

challenge is to turn aspirations into working policy and funding

In the 15 years since the last comprehensive review of higher education the

demands on the system have altered dramatically. In numbers alone, there

are 56,000 more students attending Australian universities than there were in

1995. Yet this increased growth has not been matched with investment.

There are almost twice as many universities as there were 15-years ago, and

competition within the sector is at an all time high as we compete for

research dollars and more institutions - not just universities - are eligible to

receive Commonwealth funding.

Funding the broader sector

The AVCC has an ambitious vision for our sector serving the nation - one

which is underpinned by the knowledge that the sector will deliver on the

investment placed in the system. It is a vision which sees the sector working

in partnership with Government to deliver quality at all levels - whether it is

through our research programs, or our learning and teaching environments.


Australia has, essentially, a public system of higher education. Yet our

universities have shown themselves to be creative and entrepreneurial in

building budgets and programs, both in this country and overseas.

We need a policy which supports both increased direct public funding and

also self-reliance.

The AVCC argues that there needs to be a greater investment in our sector

via an increase in base funding and a better indexation of the base block

grants. It is not unreasonable to propose that universities are indexed at the

same level as school grants.

But, we recognise that our sector is far from being alone in wanting more

investment support from the Federal Government. We recognise the harsh

reality that, in every budget consideration, there must be a political

imperative, of national priorities - a measure against all else that competes

for the same tax dollars.

Indeed, I believe there is now a compelling case as to why the university

sector needs the investment of a new funding package. It needs to meet the

challenge of the diverse system we currently have, and must also grow to

meet the demands of the future.

As many of you would be aware, the AVCC has detailed its response to the

Nelson Review - in ‘Forward From Crossroads’ in the last few days.


It is the AVCC’s position that the level of public and private investment

should be set to reach 2 percent of GDP by 2020. Without this level of

investment, we will not be able to achieve the other vision elements

concerning access, effectiveness or research and internationalisation.

Put very simply, there is widespread consensus - within the higher education

system, Government and the broader community - that the current funding

and regulatory framework for universities is simply unsustainable. It is

inhibiting institutional growth and diversification. And it is beginning to

threaten the quality of education our universities are able to offer.

International competitiveness must be our benchmark.

That the review, and the subsequent debate, has often focused on funding is,

in many ways inevitable. But of course there are many other pieces to this

complex jigsaw that is the higher education sector. And like a jigsaw, the

picture is not complete if even one piece is missing.

International Education and the Review

If we turn our attention to international education, the focus of your

conference, we know that it too is an integral part of the complex picture that

is higher education.

The internationalisation of our universities - through our courses, our

research, and provision of student movement in both directions - must

continue to develop. This requires further support for universities

international activities, reduced barriers to international students, and active


measures to increase substantially the number of Australian students

including international education in their degree.

The review of higher education provides an opportunity to consider the

international activities of universities together with their traditional roles in

teaching and research for Australians. It allows us to improve the effective

interaction between the international and domestic roles of universities to the

benefit of both.

Without an effective international perspective, Australia and Australians will

not be prepared to take advantage of international opportunities. Or even

worse, lack of an international perspective could actively lead Australia to

lose its existing wealth and general prosperity.

As the key education, knowledge and research drivers of nations,

universities are well aware of these developments and recognise the

imperative to operate internationally in a number of ways:

• they conduct more of their research in international consortia,

• staff are recruited from all countries;

• staff and student exchanges are promoted internationally;

• curricula is offered which reflects the international economic, social

and cultural conditions

• study opportunities for foreign students, both onshore and,

increasingly, offshore are made available;

• foreign language education is promoted;


• and bilateral co-operative links promoting student and staff exchanges

and research with overseas universities are being created.

Through this range of activity, Australian universities produce significant

export dollars as well as political capital. Both are critical.

It is important to note that Education was the only major service export

industry in Australia which grew in the last financial year on the recent

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures.

• The figures show that in 2001/2002, education as an export industry

for Australia was worth more than $4 billion - an increase of 2.9

percent on the previous financial year. It is now the 9th largest and

rising in the list.

• The numbers of students choosing to undertake their university

studies in Australia are growing - at a time when other industry

sectors are at best stagnating or indeed declining.

• Statistics from the Federal Department of Education, Science and

Training indicate that international student numbers at Australian

universities grew to just over 112,000 in 2001, an increase of some 24

per cent on the previous year and the figure is expected to increase to

160-thousand in 2005.


That is encouraging, as it ought to be. But in continuing to grow, we must

have a sector which can accommodate not just our international students but

also all those who wish to access higher education. Australian students

should have access to international experiences in their education, while

Australia should provide high levels of access for students from other


This will offer students learning and research opportunities to interact with

students from across the globe and equip themselves, and therefore

Australia, to engage with the global labour market and global economy.

International education has the potential to bridge gaps in knowledge of

other cultures and to build international understanding amongst students and

academics who will be prominent in the future development of their

countries. The nation already benefits from its Asian alumni, in particular.

The AVCC’s position

It is the AVCC’s basic fundamental position that what is needed is a

framework within which the key elements to achieving the goals for the

internationalisation of Australia’s universities can be accommodated - a

framework which reflects the diversity of our university sector.

Fundamental to the reform must be:

• a coordinated approach to international education, science and

technology involving government at the highest level;


• effective Government support for international activities to match

what it provides to other major export industries such as tourism;

• achieving a level of 20 per cent of Australian students in study abroad

and exchange programs; a revised approach to student visas, that

removes the charges imposed on education visas and has sensible

assessment criteria;

• raising community understanding of the importance of


On that last point, Universities and Government need to address concerns in

the Australian community that international students may be reducing access

for Australian students or otherwise using up resources to the detriment of

Australian students.

Such concerns reflect a low community understanding of the financing of

universities and the reliance on international education to provide additional

marginal income to support core university activities

To ensure the sector continues to contribute to the economy, and to provide

world-class services to our international students, universities have set

themselves a strategic framework - a commitment to achieving key goals

within the next two decades.

These include:

• making an absolute commitment to quality in curricula, teaching and



• pursuing shared goals with government;

• investing significantly in the development and promotion of

international activities; and

• constructing a strong home support base

Whilst universities are giving equal importance to each of these approaches I

would like today to concentrate on the development of partnerships with

government in the last three points.

Shared goals with governments [federal and state]

Australian universities’ international education activities are inseparable

from a significant range of government responsibilities. These include

immigration, overseas trade and diplomatic relations, quality assurance,

consumer protection and capital, recurrent and research funding for


It is critical therefore that there be a shared, positive, co-coordinated and

consultative approach to internationalisation by governments and

universities. And this approach requires joint action.

Onshore it requires:

• full consultation between Australian governments and universities in

the formulation of immigration, trade and education policies;

• continuous enhancement, through direct government investment in

university teaching and research capacity and facilities (these facilities


in turn underpin the value of the overseas student education

experience while at the same time directly supporting the education of

domestic students);

• and government investment in a reconfigured program to give

Australian students enhanced levels of exchange and study

opportunities overseas.

Offshore, it requires:

• establishment and maintenance of strong bilateral diplomatic


• a comprehensive range of bilateral agreements in education, science

and technology co-operation;

• and a network of high quality, whole-of-government marketing,

promotion and information services.

Recognition of the value of the government-university partnership could be

enhanced by the establishment of an annual program of government

sponsored national awards for excellence in international education.

International image of Australian universities

In parallel with the efforts which universities are making to internationalise

their teaching, research and community partnership activities, they devote

considerable resources to raising their profile internationally.

Many of these activities are best undertaken in partnership with

governments. Some can be undertaken ‘corporately’, through the Australian


Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. However, individual or coalitions of

universities undertake much of the strategic work. This includes:

• investment in highly targeted reciprocal exchange and study abroad

and scholarship programs;

• relationship building with international alumni; and

• active participation and acceptance of leadership opportunities in

consortia of foreign universities and international university


Home base support

To achieve the articulated vision for 2020, universities will require a solid

national support base. This requires a joint effort by the universities and

government to apprise the Australian public of the major benefits that

international education accrues for Australia.

There is a particular need to create an understanding that the overseas

academic activities and programs are created within the framework of

Australia’s high quality, national university sector.

Universities and governments need to give an even higher profile to the

national importance of international education.

Specific initiatives

To achieve this, the AVCC proposes two specific initiatives:


• the establishment of a Commonwealth-State Ministerial Council on

International Education, with provision for formal input by education

peak bodies; and

• delivery of a Prime Ministerial Policy Statement on International

Education that commits the Government to the support of

international education through concrete Government action.

These very targeted steps could form the foundations of a significant and

effective partnership which will be of benefit to government, universities

and the nation as a whole.

Thank you.