Release type: Speech


Book launch: Making a difference: Australian International Education


Senator the Hon Chris Evans
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations
Leader of the Government in the Senate


I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet—the Ngunnawal people—and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I’d also like to acknowledge:

  • The Hon Bruce Baird AO, Master of Ceremonies
  • Ms Jennie Lang, Pro Vice-Chancellor International, University of NSW (Joint Chair of the Editorial Committee)
  • Professor Stephen Parker, Vice-Chancellor, University of Canberra
  • Ms Helen Zimmerman, Co-Chair Editorial Committee
  • Ms Arfa Noor, President, Council of International Students Australia

Thanks Jennie and good evening everyone.

I’m delighted to be here tonight to join you in the launch of this timely book.

2011 marks a double celebration for international education in Australia.

It is 25 years since we opened our doors to fee-paying overseas students.

And it’s 25 years since the first Australian International Education Conference was held.

The publication of Making a Difference in 2011 is a great way to mark this milestone year.

But this launch is also ‘timely’ because I believe international education in Australia has truly come of age.

All of us here tonight know that international education is a major Australian social and economic success story.

It is our nation’s third largest export with annual revenues of more than $16 billion.

We are recognised as a world leader in the field, with students from more than 190 countries taking advantage of our expertise.

In fact, we have one of the highest proportions of international students in our higher education system of any country in the world.

With more than 2.5 million alumni worldwide, Australia has a long and proud history of international education.

Indeed, international education is a major Australian economic and social success story.

It’s time to celebrate this story. And with the launch of Making a Difference we now have a comprehensive historical summary at our fingertips.

 It is an excellent publication. It details the global context, history and development of international education in Australia from the arrival of our first international students, perhaps as early as 1904.

But it was the launch of the Colombo Plan in 1951 which provided the foundations for the success story that we celebrate today.

As you know, the Colombo Plan sponsored thousands of people in our region to study or train in Australia’s tertiary institutions.

Many students who studied in Australia under the Plan are now recognised as leaders in their fields and leaders in their home countries.

Earlier this year I had a bilateral meeting in Perth with the Indonesian Vice President Professor Dr Boediono.

During his visit to Perth the Vice-President was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Western Australia.

In 1967 Dr Boediono graduated from UWA with an economics degree before completing a Master at Monash and working as a research assistant at ANU in the early 1970s.

His experiences in Australia have informed his relationships and continue to further our national interest.

Another high achieving alumni is Mustapa Mohamed, the current Malaysian Minister for International Trade and Industry.

 I’m pleased to say the experience of these leaders is one shared by thousands of international students.

They bring a part of their culture when they arrive on our shores and inevitably they take back a bit of the Australian experience when they complete their invaluable training. 

In this way, International education has played a critical role in our nation’s soft diplomacy and has arguably led Australia’s outreach to Asia.

We were one of the first nations to embrace internationalisation in education, seeing it as a pathway to the future.

The groundbreaking decisions taken by the Hawke Government in the 1980s were the catalyst for shaping our international education sector into what it is today.

In 1985, Minister for Education Susan Ryan announced a new overseas student policy—a policy that saw our tertiary institutions open their doors to full-fee paying international students.

 It was a watershed moment.

The take-up was unprecedented and Australia fast became one of the most desirable overseas destinations for international students.

And I think I can safely say that there is bi-partisan recognition of the significant contribution made by international students who come to our shores to study, live and work. 

They enrich our communities; bringing energy, diversity and new ways of seeing things.

They expand Australia's global networks and link us to the world.

Theirs is a leap of faith.

They travel here believing Australia will deliver what they seek: a world-class education and a safe, rewarding and enjoyable experience of study.

It’s a leap of faith we must continue to deliver on—for those who leave their families and communities behind to come here to study and for us, as a nation, deeply enriched by their presence.

A high quality international education sector benefits all. It produces better educated, more worldly students from Australia and overseas. It encourages new intellectual perspectives, higher academic standards and new research links.

Clearly, it is in our national interest to protect and continue to advance this proud tradition.

I think it is also in our interest to encourage Australian students to look beyond our shores during their years of study.

I have long been an advocate of Australian students spending at least a semester abroad during their studies.

We currently provide some assistance to those students who travel abroad but I am  very interested at looking at ways to make this option even more attractive.

Just as international students benefit from their time in Australia, so too can our students gain unique insights and a deeper understanding of other cultures by travelling abroad.

During the last three decades Australia has developed into one of the world’s leading international study destinations.

The evidence shows that the majority of students enjoy their stay here and achieve positive employment outcomes thanks to their Australian qualification.

Of course it hasn’t always been a smooth path and in recent years the Government has addressed pockets of unsustainable growth in the sector as some providers sought to exploit the skilled migration pathway.

The bottom line is that, in order to protect ‘brand Australia’ on the international stage -quality education outcomes cannot be compromised.

I’m pleased to say many of the reforms we have made to underpin quality measures are now embedded in legislation and are strengthening Australia’s international reputation.

But we cannot rest. We live in a competitive world.

Last month I announced the establishment of the International Education Advisory Council, to be chaired by Michael Chaney and with a board which includes business and education leaders.

As we look to the challenge of maintaining a strong and diverse economy in the Asian Century, the Government is acutely aware of the truly global and competitive environment in which the industry of international education now operates.

Under the leadership of Michael Chaney, the Council will bring a new rigour to the strategic focus of the industry.

Mr Chaney brings unparalleled business experience and acumen and a practical understanding of how to sustainably grow an industry in a highly competitive market.

The Council  will  inform the Government’s development of a five-year national strategy to underpin the quality and sustainability of international education .

It  will provide a conduit to ensure the Government is appraised of the industry’s needs and challenges and it will inform policy across a broad spectrum of issues.

The Government is serious about securing the future of this critical and highly competitive industry and keeping Australia ahead of the pack.

Ladies and gentlemen, occasions like this serve to remind us of where we have come from and what possibilities lie ahead.

It is as important to take the time to record our achievements over the years, as it is to plan for the future.

Our international education sector is among the world’s best and I, for one, am excited by the opportunities ahead as we come to terms with the challenges of a modern, diverse global economy.

I commend the International Education Association of Australia for getting behind a book like this and making it happen.

To the editors – Dorothy Davis and Bruce MacKintosh, contributors and everyone else involved in the publication, congratulations. You should be very proud.

It is my great pleasure to officially launch Making a difference: Australian international education.

May this mark the beginning of a new chapter for international education in Australia—one that recognises the sector’s significant and lasting place in the wider Australian story.