Release type: Speech


Globally Connected

AEI Industry Forum 2008, Melbourne Convention Centre

IntroductionThank you Tony Mackay for that introduction.

Thank you Aunty Joy for your Welcome to Country. I would also like to acknowledge the Kulin Nations, the traditional custodians of this land.

It’s a great pleasure to be here to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution that international education – from primary school to postdoctoral research – is making to Australia’s education system and national prosperity.

The scope of that contribution is truly impressive.

Exports of $11.7 billion in 2006–07 mean that international education is now our third-largest export industry, making it of huge financial and employment significance to Australia.

International education is also important to Australia’s international trade. With well over a million international alumni who have studied in Australia and returned home, and more than 450,000 current enrolments across Australia, these ‘people connections’ are vital to the future prosperity of our country – constituting part of what’s known as the ‘global supply chain’ and ensuring that Australia is truly ‘globally connected’ going into the future.

In addition, many alumni choose to settle in Australia as skilled migrants, helping us more directly – by meeting our economy’s growing demand for skilled employees.

But international education’s significance is much broader than economics. It reaches into every sphere of our lives. And it reflects the intrinsic values of education itself – the spread of knowledge, skills, understanding and cross-cultural dialogue.

It’s a central part of our international diplomatic efforts and contributes to the development of good relations with our neighbouring countries.

In the widest sense, it produces global citizens who form networks and collaborations to:

  • foster wider international business engagement;
  • achieve diplomatic solutions to world pressure points;
  • develop innovations in science and technology to improve quality of life and environmental sustainability;
  • tackle global challenges like climate change; and
  • embrace cultural differences that enrich our social experiences.

Dare I say it; a prime example of the power of international education today is our Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister, whose ability to engage with the world, including China, is doing so much to promote awareness about us abroad.

And, of course, international education plays an enormously beneficial role assisting economic development in some of the world’s poorest countries. It allows people from developing nations to access world class education and be exposed to advanced social, legal and financial systems beyond the limits of their home countries. By interacting with us, people from developing nations gain access to innovative ideas and broad networks of people with common interests.

The reverse is also true. Many benefits flow our way, as our own students study overseas in greater numbers and are exposed to other cultures and education systems. Such exchanges deepen and improve our own education system and I look forward to seeing a real growth in numbers of Australian students taking the opportunity to study overseas.

To encourage more Australian students to realise this opportunity, the department will be launching a ‘Study Overseas’ online portal in the middle of this year. This practical tool will highlight the benefits to Australian students of an overseas study experience.

What this all adds up to is the fact that continuing to develop a globally competitive, high quality international education system will be a crucial element of the Education Revolution. Ensuring the curriculum across all stages of education in Australia is internationally relevant and world-leading, is paramount.

Reaching the Prime Minister’s stated goal of making us one of the most highly educated and skilled nations on Earth is an internationally-focused task.

We are already a world leader

Australia is already a leader in the international education field.

Australia has the highest proportion of foreign students in our higher education system than any other country – at 19.3 per cent according to the OECD. The OECD average, by comparison is just 7.2 per cent.

We are now the world’s fifth-largest provider of education to international students.

Our standard of education and levels of international student satisfaction are high.

I am pleased to share with you today some of the key findings of the2007 Follow-up International Student Survey –which will be published later this month.

You will recall that over 7000 international students were surveyed by the Department in 2006. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2007 on international students a year after they returned home or continued with further study or employment in Australia. Around 700 international students across vocational and higher education participated in this follow-up survey.

The initial survey highlighted that the key reasons international students choose Australia is for the quality of education, the richness of the student experience and to increase their employment prospects.

The second phase of the survey was to check that Australia had met the expectations of the students in these areas.

This latest survey provides evidence of the continuing high levels of satisfaction from overseas students a year after they finished their courses of study in Australia:

  • 81 per cent of former university and 79 per cent of former vocational education and training (VET) students said they were satisfied with their overall study experience;
  • 83 per cent of former university and 82 per cent of former VET students reported their satisfaction with the quality of education;
  • Only 12 per cent former university and 11 per cent of former VET students perceived that their home country offers better courses than Australia;
  • 67 per cent of former university and 75 per cent of former VET students reported that they had kept in touch with Australian friends and contacts they had met during their studies;

Furthermore, 83 per cent of former higher education and 88 per cent of former VET students indicated that they would recommend studying in Australia to their family and friends;

Around 67 per cent of all students had a full-time or part-time job 12 months after they finished their course of study (and less than 5 per cent were unemployed or actively seeking work).

An overall reflection of their positive experience in Australia is that around 75 per cent of all those surveyed had applied, or planned to apply at some stage in the future, for permanent resident status in Australia.

And the market is growing…

The international student sector is an important export market for Australia. It continues to grow, at a phenomenal rate, fed by rapid levels of economic growth and prosperity in our part of the world.

The world foreign student market was 600,000 people in 1975.

By 2000 it was 1.8 million.

And in 2005 it had reached 2.7 million – a 50 per cent increase in just half a decade.

This global education environment is dynamic. Population demographics are shifting, skills needs are constantly evolving and students are becoming better informed consumers.

English language skills are in high demand, and will continue to be, as it becomes the common language of commerce and foreign relations.

The demand for vocational education and training is also growing. In 2007, international student enrolments in VET grew 46 per cent, exceeding 120,000, following a similar increase in 2006. VET is now the fastest growing education sector for international students.

But so is the competition…

Australia has a key role to play in helping to meet these demands and reap the benefits from the opportunities they represent.

But as the market grows, so does the capacity of other countries to attract international students and to provide for their own students who have traditionally looked abroad for education.

These countries are now developing strategies to challenge Australia’s market position.

US universities in particular are now cashing in on their international standing to deliver more courses through joint or dual degree programs and through overseas-based campuses – in what the New York Times has recently described as ‘an educational gold rush’.

Cornell, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Michigan State and Georgia Tech are just some of the big names Australian overseas campuses will be competing with.

They’re being joined by British Universities in booming markets like India, China, Singapore and the Middle East.

The Canadian Government has mounted a $2 million challenge to Australia’s international education enrolments from China and India.

As part of the Canadian Government’s strategic focus on these countries, a pan-Canadian education brand will be launched at the largest international education conference in the world, NAFSA 2008, to be held in Washington DC in May.

And countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia are now putting in place domestic infrastructure to service more of their own educational needs.

For example, China is meeting the demands of the 21st century with its focus on constructing a broadband network for education and scientific research. And under its ‘Project 211’, around $420 million per annum has been spent in China in the seven years from 1996 to bolster existing and construct new facilities.

There is also an increasing drive to deliver courses in English in traditionally non-English speaking countries, such as Japan, Korea, Germany and Scandinavia.

The Korean Government is now leading a campaign to raise the English level of all Koreans, starting at pre-school. As part of the Brain Korea 21 (BK 21) project institutions are being encouraged – and funded in some cases – to offer more courses in English, more study abroad/exchange programs, dual/joint degrees or articulation courses with overseas institutions to keep Korean students at home.

This means we need to continually improve…

All of this of course means that we need to continually improve.

As we increase the numbers of international students in our schools, VET institutions, ELICOS courses and higher education institutions, we must maintain high standards and develop innovative, flexible ways to deliver services.

We must demonstrate to the world that we are serious about engaging with the best and we should do this through focusing on three key aspects:

Firstly, in keeping with the overarching theme of this forum – we must be globally connected to identify the world’s best practice and bring back the lessons, so they are embedded into our system

Secondly, we must understand what students want so that we can meet their needs. Only in this way will we attract the best and brightest in a competitive global marketplace for skills.

And importantly, providers must know what employers want, both here in Australia and internationally, and be able to supply the increasingly productive workforce that Australia and other countries need for future prosperity.

International graduates have played and will continue to play a significant role in meeting our skills needs.

On the 13th of March, I announced a major review of higher education in Australia that will inform the preparation of the Government’s policy agenda for higher education for the decade ahead.

Its terms of reference, which are intentionally broad, go to matters essential to the future of Australian international education – including quality, standards, global focus and financing.

This means the Review provides an important opportunity to help create a new era in international education.

I’d like your input into the Review on how Australia can build on its success to date to create an even stronger, globally competitive international education industry.

Much important work is already under way to improve quality and delivery of international education in Australia.

The Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) legislative framework, underpinned by the National Code, is protecting Australia’s reputation for delivering quality education services and the interests of overseas students, by setting minimum standards and providing tuition and financial assurance.

Over the coming year we will look at how we can enhance the quality frameworks that underpin the success of the international education sector in Australia.

The Transnational Quality Strategy framework, agreed on by Australian Education and Training Ministers in November 2005, is protecting and promoting the quality of our education and training delivered in other countries, and helping sustain our international reputation as a quality education and training provider.

I am announcing today another initiative to help promote the quality of Australian education and training – AusLIST, an online directory of Australian providers who deliver courses offshore to a standard comparable to those they deliver in Australia.

Through AusLIST, students in other countries and potential employers will be able to determine the standing of Australian providers and the courses they deliver offshore.

Scholarships, like the Endeavour Awards, are helping increase student quality and promote academic linkages by offering merit-based scholarships to high achieving students from the Asia-Pacific region and beyond and sending Australians abroad in return.

Applications for the 2009 round of the Endeavour Awards open tomorrow [9 April] and I encourage you to explore the unique opportunities available to your organisation, your students and your international colleagues or partners.

The Government will also be delivering in full on its promise to invest around $63 million to boost the study of Asian languages.

And there are many outstanding examples of international education innovation across our education sector.

In schools education, as we all know, many independent schools offer study abroad programs, but comparatively few government school students get the same opportunities. To address this, the Victorian Government has established a $400,000 Australian Student Mobility program that will give 80 year-9 and year-10 students from government schools help with airfares, insurance, accommodation and in-country transport to enable them to study overseas. This is a terrific social inclusion as well as education initiative.

In VET, the Box Hill Institute is providing 1,800 overseas students with vocational education and training linked to the Australian Quality Training Framework at contracted ‘extended’ campuses in China, Dubai, Kuwait, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

And in higher education, Monash University continues to innovate, including embedding more global content into their domestic courses. For instance, finance students will now be able to study the Malaysian banking curriculum as part of their Australian-based Monash degree.

But despite these initiatives, we know that to remain ‘globally connected’ and a ‘world leader’, we must continually seek to improve and innovate.

So in this regard, the higher education review wants your ideas on a number of issues.

First, how do we further enhance our national quality assurance framework to ensure consistency and the most streamlined approach to quality assurance?

Second, how do we determine the appropriate level of growth and mix of international students at institutions? International students now provide a large proportion of higher education funding, and many secondary schools are also increasing their revenue from international education. We need to determine at what point the student experience is optimised and whether growth of international student numbers beyond that point has the potential to detract from the experience of both international and domestic students.

Third, how do we build on Australia’s performance in attracting international postgraduate and research students? We do well in attracting undergraduates but not as well when it comes to higher degrees. Encouraging more research degree students is important for Australia’s ongoing research links and enhancing global regard for the quality of our education system and Australia’s intellectual standing.

Fourth, the best methods for the trans-national delivery of education. There are some great examples of Australian institutions delivering quality education offshore. I am sure all of us can learn from those examples. The challenge of providing a consistent quality product in a cost-effective way remains important. Intensifying international competition, cultural differences, different legal frameworks and getting caught in potential diplomatic rifts between the supplier and host countries impose other risks that must be faced up to.

Fifth, how can we cut red tape, streamline processes and make the international education system and its touch points with other government requirements, work as smoothly as possible for providers and students.

And sixth, how do we work together to continue to improve the educational and social experience of overseas students who come here to study. Building positive relationships between international students and the community is crucial to their success and emotional wellbeing and gaining positive endorsements from them.

There are many other international-education-related questions that need to be addressed, and I encourage contributions to the Review to range far and wide.


Today international education is making a huge contribution to Australia’s education system, export earnings, trade development, skill needs and development assistance.

It is rightly recognised as one of the big economic and cultural success stories of the past two decades, since we opened our economy to the world during the Hawke and Keating era.

As our nation becomes even further enmeshed in our region and the global economy, international education will become even more important.

But like all successful enterprises, it has to continually improve and innovate – and to improve it has to know what the future will look like in the next 5 to 10 years.

As I look to the future for international education, I see four important impacts:

  • education and training will become more globally connected;
  • students will become increasingly sophisticated seeking a range of education products and services delivered in a variety of ways ;
  • global demand for skilled labour will become more intense and more diverse – many of the jobs of 10 years time have not been invented today; and
  • employers will become more demanding of the education and training industry.

We must deliver world-leading education and training to make an effective contribution to boosting Australia’s productivity now and in the future.

My Government is committed to providing the framework and working in partnership with you to help keep our education and training systems the best in the world.

We will work to ensure these systems are the highest quality, while also reducing red tape for you as providers.

We will also use our international education network of Counsellors to promote Australian education and training internationally and extend our influence around the world.

We will work with States and territories to ensure our policies work for the benefit of students, employees and providers.

We will support closer ties between the system and employers in Australia and offshore so that students can move seamlessly from study to workforce participation.

The Review of Higher Education provides a timely opportunity for us to address the system’s strengths and weaknesses.

It offers the chance for a new era – one that builds on our successes and pushes us higher up the quality rankings.

And consequently deepens the international character of the education we offer our domestic students.

I am looking forward to the presentation by Professor Richard Scase on Global Re-mix and his view on the changing dynamics in the world economy and the impacts for international education.

I’m also pleased that in today’s program we will have provider perspective as well as messages from employers on what is needed from the Australian international education sector in an increasingly globally connected world.

The sessions presented by the department’s International Counsellor network tomorrow and Thursday on the regions and countries they cover will offer vital market intelligence and an insight into what students and employers from those countries demand from an Australian education experience.

Your deliberations at this Forum will be contributing to the creation of a new era of true global connection and excellence in Australian education.

Thank you.