Subject: (International Education and Training)


IAN HENSCHKE: Simon Birmingham is our guest on the program now, Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Liberal Senator for South Australia, good morning.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning and good morning to your listeners.

IAN HENSCHKE: Now, yesterday on the program we talked about the attraction of international students to South Australia and we had Steven Marshall on just towards the end of the program saying that if he was in government he’d be putting $8 million in not $5.7 in to promoting South Australia as an education destination, do you support him on that?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, international education is our largest services export earner across Australia. It’s a big earner for South Australia, around $972 million in education services income generated for SA in 2013-14…

IAN HENSCHKE: …but it was over a billion in 2010 and this is one of the things that Steven Marshall was talking about yesterday. We’ve had a billion dollar industry go backwards by about 10%.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: absolutely Ian, and unfortunately the policy and consistency we’ve seen from the State Government, who seem to think we can turn the tap off in terms of marketing, they’ve now seen a down turn in the sector. So, they’re having to reverse that and put money back in, now I think Steven is dead right that he highlighted before the last State Election, we do need to significantly drive investment in marketing our universities, our vocational education providers and our schools, all of whom take in international students. They all come and spend money in South Australia, their families come and visit and spend money in South Australia. It is a big, big earner for the state and it’s an area where a city, like Adelaide, is really well positioned to be a national leader and really enjoy the advantages of our position in the Asia-Pacific, the growing middle class in China and India and elsewhere through the Asia-Pacific and capitalise on the opportunities…

IAN HENSCHKE: …ok, now Senator Birmingham, just cutting to the chase. You have said there is a fundamental problem at the moment with those students coming to South Australia. Can you just explain what you say the problem is?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Ian my concern is that whilst the State Governments realised they need to reinvest in marketing, they are unfortunately crippling the domestic vocational education industry through their changing policies, the new WorkReady policy that is closing out and will ultimately shut down a number of private providers. Of the thousands of students from overseas who are studying an vocational education or training course in South Australia, 85% of them are choosing to do so through a private provider…

IAN HENSCHKE: …Can you give us an example of who the private provider would be and what the training course would be? Just give us a real life example.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A real life example would be a body like the International College of Hotel Management who provide cooking or hotel management type courses that are of attraction to, of course, growing tourism industries in the Asian region and where you have people wanting to access those skills from overseas, but across a whole suite of vocational careers and education opportunities you have students coming in and accessing high quality Australian training, but all of those providers are largely underpinned by having a strong domestic market and so my concern is that whilst the government has realised that they should put some money back in to marketing international education, they’re going to cripple domestic, private vocational education and training providers through their new WorkReady policy and that in fact will hurt their capacity to be able to be delivering services internationally because they won’t have that sound domestic underpinning to their training experience and to running their business.

IAN HENSCHKE: You’re saying that 85% of international students who are doing VET which is this vocational education and training are choosing to do so with non-government training providers. Are you saying that those non-government training providers will now leave training because they are not going to get a subsidy? If they’ve got so many students studying there, why won’t they just keep offering the training but perhaps put up the fees?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well it’s about, of course, what works as a business model and indeed the fees internationally have to be competitive fees, they’re not by any means subsidised by domestic students, usually it’s quite the opposite that international students provide and pay a fee that subsidises training to domestic students, but you do still need a business model that stacks up…

IAN HENSCHKE: …Will these students go to Perth? Because my understanding was that a few years ago and we lost that $100 million, or whatever, out of our business here that a lot of that went to Perth, that people were actually targeting students in Asia and saying come to Perth rather than Adelaide or go to Melbourne rather than Adelaide. Are we losing them to areas there where they are offering them cheaper courses in vocational training?

Well competition will always mean we could see students move elsewhere, but the real risk here is that we actually lose providers. You’ve seen from the new WorkReady policy, numerous training providers indicate that they may well be forced to close their doors in South Australia. So, if they’re not operating because they don’t have a sustainable domestic market because the State Government has turned off the tap of places for non-government providers, then they’re not going to be able to provide places to international students. So, you really have a double-whammy effect from this WorkReady…

IAN HENSCHKE: …Alright well let’s talk about one double-whammy that we just spoke a few minutes ago about, Senator Birmingham, and that’s… you’re the Liberal Senator for South Australia, what are you going to do to help the workers out there in the north of Adelaide? You’re the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, what would you be doing to help those workers?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have a significant package of adjustment that’s running across a range of areas for northern Adelaide. There’s a $30 million skills component to that that is being operated across Victoria and South Australia, jointly supported by Toyota and Holden, to help workers adjust to new jobs or new career opportunities and get the training and skills they need, but there are also around $100 million in addition to that in economic adjustment opportunities that are supporting a range of projects, and I was only meeting with Ian Macfarlane, the Industry Minister, earlier this week to discuss some of the good projects where there is opportunity for new investment in South Australia. Brilliant projects like, if you go a little further north, the Sundrop Farms project at Port Augusta which is seeing significant private investment creating new job opportunities up there and talking about how we can try to leverage on those industries which are standing on their own two feet as industries with commercial private sector backing and see if there is more we can do to encourage similar investment in similar ways to create new jobs in areas where clearly Australia and South Australia has a competitive advantage.

IAN HENSCHKE: Alright, thanks for your time this morning. Senator Simon Birmingham there, Assistant Minister for Education and Training.