SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thanks very much, John, and good morning ladies and gentlemen. John did all the scene setting that was required there, so I’m not sure that my comments are too required to add terribly much to this. 

Thank you for coming today for what is an important discussion around our national strategy for international education, a very important commitment by our government to make sure that we have a comprehensive, whole of government, whole of industry, when it comes to education approach to the international education sector. You all know the stats, I’m sure, but it’s critically important to us. $17 billion in economic activity generated through international education, 130,000 jobs, 450,000 students here in Australia, 110,000 studying in vocational education and training, tens of thousands in VET estimated to be about 50,000 studying Australian qualifications offshore. The demonstration is that the strategy needs to focus on the full spectrum of international education offering. Of course we want more students coming to Australia, but we also want to make sure that Australian providers are well positioned to deliver their courses in market, in other countries within our region and around the world. We also want to make sure that Australian qualifications, where possible, are utilised or present the basis for transnational recognition and to make sure that Australian industry and businesses are well positioned when they’re operating in other countries to be able to access the type of skills that they want. 

All of those are the key components or key ambitions of this draft national strategy. As John acknowledged at the outset and I’ve acknowledged and others, the draft strategy is underdone in VET, so in coming here today, don’t tell us that it has been underdone in VET because we already know that. Tell us what should be in there as part of the strategy to help make sure that the final document actually has substantial and meaningful items for us to develop an action in relation to VET because that’s how we can make sure that the vocational sector is just as well recognised and regarded in international education as the universities sector and there is no reason why it should not be because, as John put so eloquently before, our country does have a great vocational education system that is well supported by Australian employers, by Australian industry, by Australian schools, by Australian governments; it’s well recognised for its great capacity and that we do want to make sure that that well regarded system is one that is also well regarded by the students who might come and study in Australia, their families and others. 

Again, none of you in this room would need reminding about the scale of the opportunity that sits on our doorstep, the scale of economic growth within our region, the upskilling of workers required within our region to meet that economic growth. So, the opportunity is all there, that even if Australia was just to maintain our current market share in international education, the scope is there to have very significant growth continue in the number of students coming through so, of course, I hope we can do much better than that and actually grow the market share as well as grow the real numbers. 

I do encourage you, as I said before, to think laterally across the four different perspectives of what we hope to achieve out of this. Don’t just look at it is how we get more students to Australia, important though that is, also look at it as how Australian RTOs can better partner offshore and deliver in market because they are opportunities for Australian RTOs to spread the reach of Australian training and, in my recent travels through China and Korea a couple of weeks ago, it was very clear that there is great opportunities for Australian RTOs to be at the forefront of helping countries in our region to develop their systems and their capabilities to deliver training within their countries. That doesn’t mean that it comes at the expense of students coming to Australia because, as I said, it is a large and growing market and there are plenty of students to go around in that context. What we want to see is all aspects of it being capitalised on by Australian industry.

As a government, we are equally working to make sure that our qualifications, our standards, are recognised where they can be. So, we’ve developed and adopted approaches to the roll out of training courses and the benchmarking of training against Australian standards in countries like South Africa, Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and India. We’re pursuing now, as a government, a new measure, a new APEC project, to develop regional occupation standards for the transport and logistics sector in China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. All of this is, of course, about setting Australian standards, Australian qualifications where they’re relevant and applicable as a transnational benchmark that can therefore help with student mobility, with labour mobility and the mobility of capital in the businesses throughout our region and the mutual investment between different countries.

We are also seeking to strengthen the relationship we have with our markets where students come from or where our RTOs operate. By that I mean that we recognise those countries want to see it as a two way exchange, they want to see Australian commitment to their country and interest in their country just as much as we want to see their students interested in ours. The New Colombo Plan, being the signature government policy to encourage more Australian students and assist more Australian students to travel to China, to travel to Korea, to travel to Indonesia, to travel within our region and get those experiences. So, I can’t emphasise strongly enough from the time in China and Korea as to how important it was to be able to say to their officials and to their educators ‘we’re interested in you as well’ and our students are going in a two way arrangement; a very important message to demonstrate that we do recognise it as a partnership, not just as an economic opportunity. 

That is where I want to finish, that we should always be mindful in this space. That international education is more than an industry; it is more than an economic opportunity. That it is about strengthening our relationship within our region and around the world. That it is perhaps the most important aspect of our trade because it is about people to people connections and those connections strengthen the social ties between us and the rest of the world, the cultural ties, the community ties, the diplomatic ties and yes, of course, ultimately the economic and trade ties in the long term. So, it’s more than what we get from the $17 billion of economic activity, it is about strengthening our place in the world now and well in to the future because of the strength in the relationships that international students have with Australia and the Australian students they have studied alongside of have with the rest of the world as a result. 

So please, let your ideas roll forth, be plentiful in your thoughts, be direct and blunt where it is appropriate and make sure that we have some great feedback to ensure the final strategy, the first of its kind, that is being developed and overseen by six ministers covering the portfolios of education, trade, foreign affairs, industry and trade and immigration demonstrating that whole of government approach and bringing together industry expertise and consulting widely like this has as part of its core, the VET sector that has so much to offer Australia. Thanks very much.