Interview on 3AW Breakfast with Ross Stevenson and John Burns
Topics: English language testing standards for international students

Ross Stevenson: There’s a fair chance that the emergency wards at most Melbourne hospitals are currently full of university administrators who are in there with central chest pain having read the fact that foreign students are going to have to be able to speak English before they can come to study here.

Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Education and Training. Minister, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ross. Good to be with you.

Ross Stevenson: Tell us, has this been- as I understand, the problem is that if they don’t speak English properly they can’t really get the benefit of their degree and also they can be a disruption in class?

Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s right Ross. This is about being fair to international students, Australian students studying alongside them, and those at universities, TAFEs and elsewhere teaching them. We need to make sure people are able to fully participate in group work, class work, in all of the aspects of enrolling in an Australian course.

Now, we have a booming international education market in Australia, it underpins around 130,000 jobs around the country, it’s now our third largest export earner in terms of foreign income coming into this country. But what it relies upon is high quality education and people having confidence they’ll come out of it with a worthwhile degree and qualification, and to start with they need to have the language skills to participate.

Ross Stevenson: Right. Now, the language skills that they come to Australia with are inadequate; is there some proposal to have them educated in English here before they start their course?

Simon Birmingham: So, many tens of thousands of international students already participate in an English language course in Australia before they go on to university or any other form of qualification. What we’re doing is strengthening the regulation around those English language providers so that there will be a mandatory assessment at the conclusion of that course, so that we can have confidence, and the national regulator of tertiary education can have confidence, that the students who go through those preparatory English language programs then actually have the requisite skills to start the university or other course they’re undertaking.

Ross Stevenson: Right-o. Because I’m that sort of person, Minister, your answer makes me think that the current situation is that people are being given a certificate that they can speak English by enrolling in a course that they pay for when they don’t really- when they come out the end, they’re not able to speak English.

Simon Birmingham: We don’t think the problem is widespread, but there are certainly anecdotal instances where you hear the stories of group work scenarios, of Australian students saying they’re having to carry through some international students who don’t have the language skills to fully participate or other …

Ross Stevenson: [Interrupts] I do love that, I do love that, Minister. Group work scenarios – that is to say someone else sits your exam for you, effectively.

Simon Birmingham: Well, not the exam itself, but certainly in those group work settings where presentations might be required and so forth. So as I say, this is about being fair to both international students and Australian students, but also about ensuring the integrity, the respect, the reputation of Australian international education is upheld so that this very big industry – as it is to Australia now – is preserved and enhanced in the future.

Ross Stevenson: Okay. Interesting. Minister, nice to chat with you.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much guys.