Good morning ladies and gentleman and thank you very much for that welcome it is a pleasure to join you today for the National English Language Training Accreditation Scheme conference 2015, blessedly known as NEAS because the full title in and of itself is a bit like the English language test. It is a delight to join you all today and to be here to welcome you and to open and commence proceedings at this conference. Your conference could not come at a better time.  As we build stronger international links, the role of English language teaching has never been more important. NEAS does great work as a leader in quality assurance in the English language teaching sector.

I would like to thank you all for the role you play in keeping Australia competitive in an increasingly global jobs and education market.

This is something our Government is strongly focused on.  In October last year, the Prime Minister announced our Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda — our strategy to ensure Australia’s ongoing international competitiveness. Securing a more skilled labour force is one of the four pillars of this agenda. We must have businesses and workers equipped with the skills they need to seize the new opportunities and to determine their own path. We must be ready to take advantage of unprecedented economic development across the globe. The last three decades have seen the creation of a staggering 1.1 billion non-farm jobs globally — with an amazing 84 per cent of this happening in developing countries.  This has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and the shift from farm to factory has helped give rise to an emerging middle class across the globe especially in our own region.

By 2030, Asia will be home to two-thirds of the world’s middle class. This will mean about three billion people, all demanding goods and services to match their improved living conditions. While the economic significance of Asia has been quite a transformation, we generally see English though as the language of international business, including throughout Asia. This will continue to drive demand for high quality English language training — something Australia, and the people in this room, are well placed to deliver. The opportunities before us are remarkable, but the international competition is also quite fierce.

NEAS plays a vital role in providing independent quality assurance services in the English language teaching sector and supporting the Australian Government’s Adult Migrant English Language Program (AMEP) by ensuring that the quality and delivery of the AMEP continues to meet rigorous standards in English language tuition.

I addressed the AMEP forum last Thursday and invited all participants in that conference to give me feedback and have rigorous discussions about the scope and the effectiveness of the AMEP program as part of our overall sweep of resettling programs. Similarly I look forward to receiving the feedback from your input in to this forum today, because this is a fantastic opportunity for all of you to come together, build your networks and share best practice and future ideas around the programmes that you support and indeed the policies the government pursues.

More broadly, the English language sector is a central component of Australia’s international education offerings. The sector plays a key role in helping people from non-English speaking backgrounds to engage in Australian society and employment, or to be better skilled when engaging in business wherever their home country may be, whether for overseas students and visitors, or migrants and humanitarian entrants to Australia.  It also offers pathways to other education sectors, with roughly 40 per cent of students continuing from English language training into further education. And as I said earlier – English is the language of international business. It is also the language of international forums including the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); the East-Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

More than 147,000 international students, from more than 140 different countries, started Australian delivered English language programs in 2013. This delivered more than $1.8 billion in economic activity for our nation. In 2013, Australia was ranked third in the world for English language delivery, based on the number of student weeks’ delivered. Nationally consistent quality standards and strong consumer protection mechanisms are key factors in our continued success in marketing the quality of Australia as a study destination, and there is much to be proud of.

However, ensuring English is an integrated component of Australian education offerings needs to remain a key focus, so that English language ability is improved during study with our education and training providers and to ensure students are well prepared to work in an English speaking environment. Ensuring students are well prepared for the workplace is vital if we are to develop a highly skilled and productive workforce to support Australia’s ongoing global competitiveness.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) plays a vital role in this and it’s of course, as you heard in the introduction, the particular focus of my role as the Assistant Minister for Education and Training.

During 2013, roughly 3 million Australians undertook some form of VET and it has been a driving force for, not just training, but importantly for entrepreneurship and business start-ups.

According to the last census data, around 23 per cent of business owners held a bachelor degree or higher, while 40 per cent of business owners held a certificate level qualification, diploma or advanced diploma from the vocational education sector. It is clear that vocational education and training has a central role in driving entrepreneurship and small business investment around Australia. Given the significant contribution to the Australian workforce and to small business, it is imperative that VET graduates have skills that closely match job requirements. This means technical skills coupled with strong foundation skills, including of course English language skills. These skills also need to be relevant and portable between employers, industries and even between different countries and different labour markets.

In support of this goal, last month I announced a new model of training product development, which puts industry at the heart of training development. We’re taking this approach because it is employers who know best what skills they need, in their businesses, to be innovative, to boost productivity and to boost competitiveness. Last month we also put in place a new support network to increase apprentice completion rates. The new Australian Apprenticeship Support Network represents a $200 million annual investment to recruit, train and retain apprentices and trainees across more than 440 locations around Australia.

This initiative will start on 1 July and will really change the way apprentices are supported and employers of apprentices are supported around Australia. Employers, particularly small business owners, will receive more efficient help in navigating the apprenticeships system, while individuals will be better assisted to ensure they complete their training and to lift apprenticeship completion rates.

Our new Industry Skills Fund is also supporting employers to get the training and skills they need to grow, including the language or cultural skills they may need to better access export markets.  We are also placing a greater focus on the importance of English language skills in the quality of training and in the conditions surrounding entry to courses supported by VET-FEE HELP loans. Training providers will be required to check the capacity of students to undertake higher level courses before they offer of a VET FEE HELP loan. This includes demonstrating English language skills to a level appropriate to the course being undertaken. All these reforms are part of our Industry Innovation and competitiveness agenda and our focus on creating jobs, opportunities and playing to our strengths particularly by ensuring quality and relevance within our vocational education and training sector.

That shift from farm to factory that I mentioned earlier is indeed an opportunity for Australia to play to its strengths. That global change, where it is predicted that by 2030, the global labour force will have grown to around 3.5 billion people; new jobs requiring significantly different skills sets.  Developing countries are recognising the importance of trade skills and technical skills whilst developed countries are finding that sometimes an over-emphasis on higher education can lead to imbalances in the skills mix within their economies.

There is growing demand for intermediate and technical level skills, which Australia is well placed to support. India for example, plans to train 500 million people by 2022, to address both its domestic needs, but importantly to deliver skilled labour to meet the needs of its global businesses.

To achieve this, India must address significant challenges, particularly in ensuring that training produces skills that are globally relevant, and that there is a sufficient supply of highly skilled trainers to deliver this – requiring an estimated initial 70,000 trainers now, and a further 20,000 additional trainers each year.

China is another example. It has achieved phenomenal gains in opening up university education to its people. Between 1998 and 2010, enrolments in Chinese universities increased from 3.4 million people to 22.3 million people.

The economic transformation has of course been equally remarkable, with more than 500 million people lifted out of poverty since market reforms and greater economic liberalisation began in China in the late 1970s. China currently trains roughly 30 million people per year in formal vocational education and training, and demand for skills training is increasing across China. With a middle class of around 150 million people, which is estimated to grow to half a billion people in the next 10 years, China is shifting towards a domestic consumption based economy.

This shift will see a massive expansion in the demand for goods and services and in turn drive further demand for technical skills, and productivity gains to offset wage growth that comes with greater economic activity. The Chinese are reforming their VET system to deliver these skills, with a focus on quality and modern apprenticeships in technical and trades areas – areas that Australia is well placed to assist.

The Republic of Korea is similarly undertaking a massive effort to ensure supply of skilled labour to support its continued economic growth. Their university entrance rate of 71 per cent of secondary school graduates is the highest in the OECD — compared to an average of 56 per cent. However they also have a rising number of young people with tertiary qualifications finding it harder to secure employment. In 2011, 24 per cent of South Korean young people with tertiary education were neither in employment nor in education or training. To address this, Korea is transforming both the way it delivers skills training, but also the way Korean society thinks about it.

All these examples are opportunities for Australia. However the challenge facing us is how we build on our strong reputation, in vocational education and training, including in English language education, to develop innovative approaches to address this demand.

Australia is currently the 12th largest economy in the world – testament to our capacity for innovation, and drive for international trade which currently represents over 40 per cent of our national GDP. Maintaining this position will require international engagement that brings together government, business and the community. This is articulated in Australia’s economic diplomacy strategy, launched last year by Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb. This is about using Australia’s diplomatic assets to advance both our nation’s prosperity and boost global prosperity by promoting trade, growth and investment.

That is why we are working to strengthen trade within our region, through initiatives like our recently signed free-trade-agreements with our three largest export markets — and the three largest economies in our region — China, Japan and Korea. We are also strengthening links with India and pursuing free-trade discussions there.

These agreements provide a strong platform for Australian business to tap into these markets and participate in global supply chains, including in the services sector. They also provide opportunities to attract students to study in Australia and to market our ability to deliver education services offshore across all sectors: higher education, VET, English language and schools.

Australia’s international education sector is a remarkable success story. Our commitment to high quality education and training, including English language, and innovative delivery is recognised around the world. So too is our reputation as a welcoming, English speaking country, with excellent support services for international students and aside from Sydney’s occasional bad weather, pretty good living conditions as well.

International education is our largest services export — and our fourth largest export overall, contributing more than $16.3 billion during 2013-14. This was an increase of roughly $1 billion over the preceding 12 month period. Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics estimates that international education generates and supports more than 100,000 jobs across our economy. Of course, this is just one of the benefits of a strong international education sector.

During 2014, more than 450,000 people from around the world studied in Australia. These students enrich the education experience for Australian students, and become powerful ambassadors for Australian education, creating long standing connections between Australia and the world.

Global student mobility is increasing. There has been an average 7.5 per cent growth per annum between the year 2000 and 2012, and this trend in global student mobility is predicted to continue. However, just as student mobility is increasing, so too is competition from established providers of international education and new, emerging competitors. Harnessing this potential that we have and achieving success in an increasingly competitive environment will require coordinated action.

To achieve this, our government has developed a National Strategy for International Education. The draft was recently released for consultation by the Minister for Education and Training, Christopher Pyne just recently. The strategy outlines our comprehensive approach to ensure international education is a core element of Australia’s prosperity, social advancement and international standing.

It focuses on what we can do to ensure quality across our education system and strengthen and diversify our international partnerships.

Of course, my particular focus in this broader context of international education is to ensure that Australia remains a world leader and innovator in vocational education and training — both from a domestic perspective, and also how we can collaborate with partners overseas to address the significant skills challenges facing the world.

The strength of our VET system is our nationally recognised qualifications, as defined by industry requirements and employer needs, flexible delivery arrangements and strong quality assurance frameworks – all of which are sought after or replicated by international stakeholders.

In 2013-14, international vocational education and training contributed roughly $2.5 billion from the vocational education sector to our economy.  During 2014, there were 149,785 enrolments from international students in vocational education and training courses in Australia. Of these, 86 percent of students were satisfied or very satisfied with their experience.

This is complemented by just under 50,000 offshore VET enrolments with Australian public providers. Though it is suspected that this figure really only provides a small glimpse of the extent of offshore delivery, across the myriad of delivery models. This is an impressive achievement; however there remains the challenge of ensuring the quality of this training, both onshore and offshore for international and domestic students alike. The focus of quality is a key focus for our Government.

We are committed to a high-quality delivery of education in the VET sector to ensure it enjoys the confidence of Australian employers, of overseas employers, of students and individuals here and offshore.

That is why our Government has undertaken significant reforms across the VET sector, including significant improvements to the VET FEE-HELP scheme, a national VET complaints hotline (13 38 73), improved data reporting, new trade support loans and tough new standards. Importantly, we have also invested $68 million in to the national regulator, the Australian Skills and Quality Authority to allow the regulator to focus on its core business of targeting poor practice in an act of legislative change that ensures the regulator spends less time on tick-a-box compliance activities and more time on analysing the data to identify the areas of higher risk, and auditing and assessing those providers in those high risk categories.

Our Government is working with countries in our region to ensure Australia is seen as a leader and innovator in international skills policy and system design, so we can open up greater opportunities for Australian VET stakeholders and the industry more broadly. There have been a range of partnerships between Australian VET providers and overseas counterparts to examine approaches to leadership and management of training institutes, or approaches to industry engagement or the delivery of training and assessment.

Increasing global mobility of students and labour has led to a greater focus on international or regional industry requirements, and what skills are needed. Our Government is working with key stakeholders in Australia and overseas to benchmark overseas occupations and qualifications to those in Australia, to identify the similarities and differences in terms of the technical skills required.

This is helping identify technical skills common across countries, and valued by industry in different labour markets, which can lead to specific programs to deliver these skills and address the skills gaps of particular countries. This in turn will present new offshore opportunities for Australia’s high quality registered training organisations.

One example is the recent development of three international training and assessment courses, currently being piloted in India. The courses use the technical competencies contained in the Australian qualification for training and assessment, but have been adapted for the international context to allow greater flexibility for delivery offshore. While it is relatively early in the pilot, the potential for international-focused courses is very real.

This morning I have spoken and sought to highlight the many fantastic opportunities that lie before us for Australia and for the training sector. As new global economies develop, there will be increasing demand for high quality, industry relevant skills.  Australia is already recognised as a leader and innovator – particularly in skills training and in English language training. Understanding the demands of global industry, and how these differ between countries, will help us design globally relevant, but locally focused solutions to improve, not just our skills base, but the world’s skills base.

We are well placed to capitalise on our competitive advantage. We have well-established quality standards and frameworks, industry relevant education and training, and expertise in flexible, client-centric delivery models, including distance and online delivery. There is no shortage of exciting opportunities, and the initiatives I have outlined today illustrate what a strong platform we have to build on. However increasing global competition will require continued innovative approaches, and effective national coordination.

Consultation on The Draft National Strategy for International Education will continue, with my colleague Minister Pyne holding roundtables with key stakeholders in the coming months.

You can provide feedback on the Draft National Strategy for International Education until 29 May and I encourage anyone with an interest in this area to do so.

Beginning in Melbourne in May, I will also be holding a number of forums with vocational education and training stakeholders in different cities to discuss opportunities and challenges facing domestic and international vocational education and training.

I look forward to these discussions on the future of our international vocational education and training sector, including the role that high quality English language services play in Australia’s offerings. By working together we can give students the highest quality education experiences, no matter where they come from.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning, thank you for the contribution you make to the quality and integrity of English language training around Australia, to the quality and integrity of the English language offering that Australia offers students from around the world, I wish you well for your conference and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of today’s deliberations. Thanks very much.