Simon Birmingham: Thank you for that very warm welcome. Yes indeed, whilst you were all at the big night of the conference last night, with the big band, I was in the big setting of Senate Estimates, so I suspect there’s every chance that most of you had an even later night than me, certainly that you had a bit more to drink than me, and probably a lot more fun than me! So, thank you very much for turning out this morning, particularly with the slight rescheduling of the conference program. I want to particularly thank the conference organisers and those in charge of logistics who facilitated that.
Phil, thank you very much for having us and for the outstanding and exemplary leadership that you provide to international education in Australia. It really is so wonderful to have such strong and robust leadership in terms of our international education sector. And to the leadership of the IEA, to IDP members, all those others present who put together this event, once again demonstrating Australia’s leading role in international education. Thank you very much.
Our international education story is, of course, one of success. So that you’ve got something to look at other than just me, there are a couple of slides today that we’ll talk through, but I’m trying not to do death by PowerPoint. You all know the statistics: an average growth rate of 11 per cent since 2013. 2015 was our biggest year ever, with around 640,000 international student enrolments in Australia contributing around $19 billion to the Australian economy, and supporting around 130,000 jobs. Now I want to put the concept of about 640,000 international students into perspective. At any one time, there’s around half a million or so actually in Australia. That means, when you walk down the street in Australia, when you go into a restaurant, when you go into a shopping centre, around one in 50 people in Australia are international students, at a given point in time. That is the scale of the impact on our economy, on our society, on our culture, on the fact that we are very much open to the world and have that embrace of people making such a phenomenal contribution. That comes with challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities. And our job is to make sure that we manage those challenges, are true to dealing with the responsibilities, and seize the opportunities that come with such a significant market of international students.
I’m very pleased to say that data that will be released shortly, by my Department, shows that as of August this year the number of enrolments in 2016 has already exceeded the total number of enrolments that occurred in 2015.
The growth remains incredibly strong- and a testament to you. It’s yourselves you should be giving a round of applause to, because it is your work that is making that great difference. So 2016 will be another record year and, in doing so, it comes at a time of critical importance for the Australian economy.
International education has been at the forefront of the transition of the Australian economy. Our story of maintaining jobs’ growth, around 180,000 jobs created over the last 12 months, of having economic growth figures that are the envy of much of the rest of the world, is a testament to the fact that we are managing to transition from a boom time, built on construction activity associated with the mining and energy sectors, to transition through greater reliance on the services sector. And international education is at the forefront of that services sector and it is of course delivering enormous benefits to Australians right around the country. But, we face growing competition, competition and opportunities for collaboration that run in tandem.
We are the third most popular destination for international students behind the US and the UK but competition is growing; competition is fierce in those quarters, particularly in the US. It’s strong, and growing, in New Zealand and Canada. And of course, it’s growing in Asia. We’ve seen significantly more Asian universities listed in some of the top universities of the world. And that growth is only going to continue. China, our largest source country, as a nation, is strengthening their own education system while at the same time looking to attract more international students themselves into China. So China is not just a destination market for us in terms of, you know- source market for us in terms of international students; they are seeking to become a destination market themselves. That said, there remains plenty of upside potential in the Chinese market, but we also need to be very conscious, as we are, of working to diversify as much as we possibly can.
So all of this growth is an incredibly positive sign and it means we need to work very hard to keep doing the things that make us great, that make us successful, but also focus on what else we can do to seize the opportunities of the future. That’s why the National Strategy for International Education, that the Government has released, is important. It’s an important structural document. It’s a document upon which we now have to build the actions that give effect to its clear direction and ambitions. The National Strategy recognises that we already do many things very well, and we must continue to do so. But it’s also looking to identify what else we have to do to improve our competitiveness, to innovate, to keep ahead. We have to make sure that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past, like the visa changes of 2009 that put the sector into decline for several years. I’m pleased that the recent reforms to the simplified student visa framework are providing the opportunity to minimise evidentiary requirements for students from low risk countries, going to low risk providers, while making sure that we have appropriate safeguards in place for higher risk countries or providers. I know that there’ve been some challenges in terms of some of the processing timelines around visa applications, but I’m pleased that because the sector talks so openly to the Government, and the Government is working in a whole-of-government sense, that we’ve been able to respond and address most of those, to do so quickly, and we are certainly continuing to work within Government to address those issues in the future and make sure we avoid such repeats.
Of course, the fundamental, the most important aspect of our continuing success in international education is quality, and continuing to ensure the high quality of our offering, because it is for an outstanding educational experience that students first and foremost sign up for learning.
We have great institutional frameworks in Australia to help ensure strong levels of quality and we’re working to continue to improve those; we are working to deliver enhancements to ESOS and to the national codes. Those enhancements aren’t just about being tougher; they’re also about ensuring that they operate efficiently. The reforms of 2015 that we brought in are saving the sector an estimated $48.2 million a year and have created a more streamlined Quality Assurance Framework. The next step we see is to revise the standards or national code. I aim to shortly release draft provisions to the standards which will govern the operations of international education providers and we’ll welcome your comments during the upcoming consultation period in relation to those standards.
Equally at last year’s AIEC, I had the pleasure of lauding the work of the international education sector when our peak bodies became the first in the world to commit to the London Statement; a statement promoting best practice and the ethical recruitment of international students. Today, to strengthen the fundamentals and ensure we maintain a quality system and establish more support in relation to how international education agents work, I’m pleased to announce that the sector is continuing to lead the way in raising their standards by releasing an agent code of ethics for Australian agents. This is something the Government wants to work closely with the sector to support and ensure that it is embraced by our providers and is robustly applied to uphold standards. Because we know that any lapse in standards, any sense of taking advantage of students, any failure of decent consumer behaviour is of course a risk not just to the one, but to all of us, to all of the providers and to the nation as a whole if we don’t uphold those best of consumer experiences. That’s why of course, in the VET space, we’ve been dedicating time to fixing domestic problems to make sure that we have integrity in both the quality of learning and the consumer aspects of the recruitment of students in our VET markets because that is so essential to ensuring we have high quality domestic vocational education and training, which of course underpins the reputation that we then take into the international market.
It’s equally why we drive so hard in terms of providing additional support this year back into TEQSA to support their regulatory efforts to maintain high quality in the higher education sector, why I’m engaged in continued discussions about higher education reform and of course why it is that we want to lift quality outcomes in our schools through specific school reforms into the future. All of it is about ensuring that domestic Australian students get the best education experience possible, but that of course our education sector is offering the best possible experience to the world.
The quality of teaching and learning is not just – is not the only aspect, of course, that makes Australia an attractive destination. The quality of the student experience that we offer is second to none. Nobody can take away the natural advantages that Australia has. That doesn’t mean that we can take for granted all aspects of the student experience either. We have to make sure that we deal with issues like access to accommodation and cost of living pressures for international students and clearly we’re doing a pretty reasonable job to date. I’d like to highlight the great results contained in the 2016 International Student Survey where over 65,000 international students participated in investigation of their study and living experiences in Australia and 88 per cent of them indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall experience. This is the highest score we’ve received or achieved since 2010 and a sign that we are doing some things right. But of course we can never afford to rest on our laurels and a key part of the work that I want to see occur under the international strategy is absolutely that focus on student experience, that work with cities and local government and state governments to ensure that we are addressing those accommodation and cost pressures as well as all of the other aspects that make for a welcoming, positive experience.
Equally important is to ensure that Australia is an embracer of educational mobility, of the fact that it is a two-way street. This is not just about Australia having more students here, or more Australian providers operating overseas. It is about recognising that our nation benefits from enhanced internationalism and that includes our students reaching out to the rest of the world.
Our government is incredibly proud of the fact that we’re creating more opportunities for more Australian students to engage on the world stage and I can’t tell you how much that is a positive whenever I sit down with international governments to talk to them about the engagement we have on international education and the opportunities for their students to study in Australia. They want to hear that Australians are also studying in their nations and the work that Julie Bishop in particular has done through the New Colombo Plan, as a signature initiative of our government, is making an enormous difference to those perceptions in our region in particular about the outlook of Australia and enhancing that sense that we do indeed have an outward looking embrace of their nations on a mutually respectful and engaging way.
Around 17,000 students under New Colombo will study overseas in the Indo-Pacific area and of course that is only built upon- through with programs such as the long established Australia Awards and Endeavour programs. A few weeks ago, Japanese scientist Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi from the Tokyo Institute of Technology was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. You may ask me why that’s particularly relevant in this speech or at this conference, but through the Endeavour program, the former Monash student Dr Alexander May spent two years studying under Professor Ohsumi between 2012 and 2014. It’s a relationship that has endured after his return to Australia and the completion of his PhD. Alexander returned to Japan to take up a position at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. This of course is a connection that is so important and symbolic of the many connections that are forged at all manner of different levels through international education and that’s why, again, in a two-way sense we need to work hard to foster the alumni networks and take advantage of that. Another key aspect of the International Education Strategy for which, in the New Colombo Plan and the Endeavour Awards, we’re already working to make sure we have stronger alumni networks of Australians who have been overseas and we equally need to do more to make sure we foster the alumni networks, as I know many institutions do, of those who have studied from overseas in Australia.
I’m very pleased to announce the outcomes of the 2017 Australia Awards-Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships and the Endeavour Mobility Grants which will see a further 3000 individuals have the opportunity to undertake life-changing study, research or professional development overseas or in Australia.
Of course, partnerships also involve the partnership with the wider Australian economy. The importance of ensuring that we have strong ties with business and industry and I welcome the warm embrace that we have from particularly Australia’s leading business representative bodies, who do recognise the significance of this sector and the need to make sure that they are playing their role in providing constructive work experience and placement opportunities for international students.
Entrepreneurial graduates, international and domestic, are creating innovative businesses and jobs with more opportunities than ever before. And through the changes to our visa system that we’ve announced under the National Innovation and Science Agenda, we are creating more opportunities for more entrepreneurial graduates to partake and contribute to Australia through work, through business innovation and establishment. Connections between education, business and industry, through alumni networks, through work placement opportunities, strengthen both the quality of our education system and of course our economy and industry overall.
As I said before, we have enormous competitive pressures and we need to focus on how it is that we best continue to pursue improvements to promote excellence and grow, of course, our international education markets. Now Deloitte have projected significant growth in student numbers around the world over the next decade and we need to prepare for this growth now. Conferences like this as well as the Australian International Education 2025 document provide a roadmap to how we can do this and pursue opportunities for growth, both onshore, online and through new consortia, partnerships, technologies and opportunities. In the vocational space the new International Skills Training courses are a great example of innovative approaches where the Australian Government, in partnership with industry and the VET sector, is developing courses specifically for delivery offshore by quality Australian RTOs. They can be tailored across many skill sectors to address critical competency gaps in the international workforce helping to meet the global demand, the growing global demand, particularly in our region, for quality skills training. These include the international training and assessment courses which are also building the skills and capabilities of vocational education, trainers and assessors in our region.
There is also increasing overseas demand for secondary education, an area that I see as a real source of potential growth for Australian international education. More and more parents are keen to consider sending their children to Australian schools. Most recent data shows that so far this year, there has been a growth of 12 per cent in enrolments of international students undertaking Secondary School Certificates in Australia, and our schools are looking at offshore engagement as well. Here in Victoria, both public and private schools are delivering the VCE into China. This type of opportunity is one that we must seize, because growth of course in secondary education numbers creates a new pipeline for growth into the tertiary sector as well.
Regional Australia is another area where there is enormous opportunity for growth and specialisation. Currently only around five per cent of international students study in regional areas but, outside our capitals, cities like Newcastle and here in Victoria, Geelong, have well developed and successful education services that are driving growth and revitalising their economies. We need to encourage our other regional universities and education and training providers to seize more opportunities and to help them to do so.
To bring, of course, to bring the strategy into action and reality, we are working now with the Council for International Education. It comes with a whole-of-government approach, and it comes with broad representation in terms of its membership. I don't propose to go through them all today but, you know, having seen them, and I'm sure you've all had a look at that, that we have brought together the university sector, the training sector, English language providers, school providers, representatives of state governments, cities, all together as part of the Council for International Education, which I am incredibly pleased to personally chair and to take its views to the Cabinet table and to ensure that we bring together and continue to have the ministries of foreign affairs and trade, investment, immigration, industry all collaborating to make sure that our whole-of-government approach to international education ensures that we are able to address the problems that come up quickly, to ensure that we implement wise strategies that are translated into actions that make a difference in our source markets and in Australia to the number of students that we are attracting and to our ability to continue to grow our markets.
So in closing, can I thank you all again for the outstanding work you have done to build our international education sector to date, to commit that the Turnbull Government will work alongside you to ensure that we put in place the actions necessary to help you to maintain your global excellence and to grow our numbers into the future, to grow our contribution to the educational offering that we provide to students as a nation right around the world. We will work together and collaboratively with you, and I'll be convening the first meeting of the new council in early November to make sure that we have concrete framework of action and activities that are rolling out from 2017 onwards, and that give us the opportunity to ensure that this year's high water mark is one upon which we build and keep building into the future.
Thank you so very much for the work you do, for all that you're discussing here at this conference, and I wish everybody every success in the future.