Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Elysse Morgan, ABC The Business


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: International students, Pilot programs, Universities and COVID-19, University research

Elysse Morgan: So, when will the Government’s plans to bring back international students get off the ground? And, are there plans to help plug the sector’s billion dollar black hole? Today, the Australian National University and Uni of New South Wales let go around 800 staff, amid warnings of many more cuts to jobs, courses and research to come. Education Minister Dan Tehan joined me. Minister, student visa applications are just 10 per cent of what they were this time a year ago. Do you agree this isn’t just a university problem, though? It’s also an economy wide problem.

Dan Tehan: Well, we know from last year, when the international student market was at full strength, that international students helped create 250,000 jobs and $40 billion worth of national income. So, there is no question that we want to see the international student market resume and get back to where it was, because it’s so important for creating jobs in our economy and for creating national income. And, that’s why National Cabinet has agreed that we will commence pilots as soon as we can get issues sorted within state borders, but also with those returning Australians who need to come back, and the caps that are in place at the moment, because we all understand that not only is it important for our university sector, but it’s also important for our national economy.

Morgan: Last month, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham announced that up to 300 students would start arriving in Adelaide as part of a pilot program. How many have arrived so far?

Tehan: No, look, none. Obviously, there was an announcement that the South Australian Government was keen to commence on that, on that pilot. But, we’ve also made it very clear in the discussions that we’ve had with the South Australian Government that we’ve got to sort out those internal border issues, and also those issues around returning Australians. And, we continue to, to work through those issues. And, it’s welcome news that today, I think it was, the South Australian Government announced that their borders are now open for those residents from the ACT, and it looks likely that the same will be in place for New South Wales as of next week. So, while we continue to deal with those issues, and deal with them in a favourable way, then we’ll be able to look at what we can do to get those pilot flights up and running.

Morgan: So, how soon do you expect to get them up and running? What’s the, what’s the best case scenario?

Tehan: Well, obviously, hard to tell at this stage. But, you know, we continue to have very close discussions with the South Australian Government. We continue to, to work through the issues, in particular now looking and focusing on how we can ensure that those caps on Australians wanting to return home can be lifted, and ensuring, also, that we’ve got the quarantine arrangements in place, so that we know, both for returning Australians but also for these pilots with international students, that the quarantine regime will mean that all Australians will be safer as a result of these either returning or incoming international students.

Morgan: So, for someone overseas considering whether to come here to study or to another country, the message is, we don’t know when you’ll be able to come, if you choose Australia?

Tehan: No, no, the message is an incredibly welcoming one to international students. And, what we’re seeing …

Morgan: … But, but you can’t give them any uncertainty.

Tehan: Well, what, the certainty we’ve given them is that they can commence their studies online, and a lot of them are. And, we’ve also made it very clear to them, as soon as it’s safe to do so, and as soon as requirements are in place domestically in Australia, then we’ll be looking to commence those, those pilots So, but, in the meantime, they can continue to study online. And, we have to remember, the way our higher education sector and our universities were able to move online, the way they’ve been able to deal, to deliver courses online, I think, is second to none, across the globe. So, we’re in a very strong position to rebuild and regrow our international education sector. The way we’ve dealt with the pandemic, what a welcoming country we are, the excellence of our education offering, I think we’ll see, when it does occur, international students, that demand continued for them to wanting to come here to study.

Morgan: So, you’re not worried about the surge in deferrals and the drop in enrolments that we’ve seen so far?

Tehan: Well, we were able to see over 80 per cent of our international students come here to study this year. Every indication from what I’m hearing from the higher education sector, from the English language sector, is that the demand remains there from students wanting to come here. All we have to do is, is obviously make it safe to do so, and ensure that we’ve got the requirements in place that were agreed by National Cabinet. And, I think, when the time comes, we’ll see demand, very strong demand in the international education sector.

Morgan: In any case, there’s going to be a huge gap in university funding and enrolments because of what we’ve seen, for at least this year and probably into next year. And, it’s no secret that universities use the much higher fees for international students to help subsidise local students. What do you think will be the long-term impact on universities from this?

Tehan: Well, the majority of cross subsidisation has occurred into our research capability. Obviously, the Government and the students themselves, through their contributions, have tended to mean that universities are renumerated for domestic students. But, where we have seen international students through their fees, paying their part, is through the cross subsidisation into research. And, so, this is one of the things that the Government is working through with the university sector. And, we’ve established a group of Vice-Chancellors to work with the Government to ensure that we assess what the impact is on our research capability, and what support the Government might have to provide to help our university sector through the next couple of years, which could be very, very challenging years for us as a nation. And, therefore, we want our research capability to be able to help and support us grow our economy out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, those discussions have been going very well. We’ve got a very clear understanding of the type of impact that the hit to international students is having on our research capability, and we continue to work constructively with the sector to see how we can best deal with that.

Morgan: What’s the size of the hole?

Tehan: Look, the size of the hole varies, depending on how long we think international students will remain not being able to travel here to take up their studies. But, in the short-term, next year and the year after, we’re looking at, you know, a billion dollar impact to the higher education sectors research capability, and that’s something that, obviously, as a nation, we have to look at very seriously, given a) how research has helped us deal with the COVID-19 impact, through modelling, through medical expert advice, and potentially through the creation of a vaccine, and the work being done through The University of Queensland on that. So, the important role that research has played in helping us deal with COVID-19. But, also, we know that research will be a key driver of our economy, of technology, of new industries going forward. So, we’ve also got to make sure that that research capability is there for that.

Morgan: And, we know it’s not just research areas of universities that are hit by this. It’s all areas that have seen redundancies and the cancellation of contracts. Just today we saw another thousand jobs go from ANU and UNSW. Is the Government going to come up with fresh cash, after all? That’s what uni’s are going to need.

Tehan: So, already the Government has provided $18 billion worth of certainty for the sector this year. We announced that on Easter Sunday, as well as a brand new initiative of putting in place microcredentials, or short courses, which have been taken up by over 55 higher education providers in 300, 400 different areas of study. So, already, we’ve put some ballast into the sector. And, look, we’re continuing to have discussions with the sector as to what, what else we need to do. And, they’ve been very fruitful discussions, very insightful. The sector’s been very forthcoming in pointing out where they, where they think the real issues are, where Government help could come or support, and we’ll continue to have those discussions, as I’ve said, in the lead up to this Budget and next year’s Budget.

Morgan: Minister Dan Tehan, thank you very much for your time.

Tehan: Pleasure.