Release type: Speech


Australian International Education Conference 2018


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

Check against delivery.

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to be here today to open your annual conference.

Can I please acknowledge:

  • Council members:
    • The Hon Phil Honeywood – CEO, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), and Convenor of the Expert Members of the Council for International Education
    • Professor Kent Anderson – Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Community & Engagement), University of Western Australia
    • Mr Brett Blacker – CEO, English Australia
    • Mr Bijay Sapkota – President, Council of International Students Australia
    • Mr David Riordan – Director of City Operations, City of Sydney 
  • Thanks to IEAA and IDP Education
    • Professor Christopher Ziguras – President, IEAA
    • Mr Andrew Barkla, CEO and Managing Director, IDP Education
  • Special thanks to all teaching and support staff who make a difference every day by teaching and caring for international students

The future of our children is paramount.

And I know the parents of international students who come to Australia to study want the same thing for their children.

A good education, informed by a strong sense of values, and the opportunity to fulfil their individual potential.

This is the principle that must underpin everything we do in international education.

The success of our international education sector has been a key achievement in education.

We must continue to focus on the student experience and the wellbeing of each student who chooses to learn in our country.

We also must extend and promote the benefits of this wonderfully successful sector to the broader Australian community.

International education provides enormous benefit to Australia, including enormous economic benefit.

According to figures released this week, the sector is now worth more than $32 billion to the Australian economy, up $5 billion from the previous year.

Recent estimates suggest this includes supporting more than 240,000 jobs.

This financial input allows universities and other institutions to invest in research and infrastructure, build capacity and develop services that benefit all students, and the broader community.

The benefits have a ripple effect through the wider economy – through the professional, scientific and technical services, finance and property sectors, employment and travel agencies, retail and other administration services, food, entertainment, and much more.

In 2017, more than 230,000 friends and family came to Australia to visit international students, contributing close to an additional $1 billion to the economy.

But the sector is so much more than economics.

Australia is a stable, prosperous liberal democracy and a trusted and pragmatic advocate for the rule of law.

International education is a cornerstone of our diplomatic efforts.

It is one of the pillars of our international reputation as a teaching and research leader.

And it has helped build important links and capacity across many areas that will put Australia at the cutting edge of future opportunities in the world economy.

Over decades of investment, hard work and the commitment of world-class scholars, teachers and administrators, we have established a global reputation as an education leader.

We’re now the third most popular destination for international tertiary students, after the United States and the United Kingdom… and we may yet pass the United Kingdom into second place.

The British-based Centre for Global Higher Education predicts Australia will leapfrog the UK to become the world’s second most popular destination for international students next year.

Almost two thirds of Australian universities (28 out of 43) are ranked in the top 500, according to the latest global rankings of universities.

Australian universities have more than 9,000 formal agreements with foreign universities, including more than 1,400 with Chinese universities and almost 1,000 with American universities.

Excellence in Research Australia found that every Australian university is world class or world leading in at least one area of research.

Similarly, with our vocational education and training sector, Australia is recognised as a trusted and world-class provider of VET.

There’s a growing number of Australian VET providers delivering Australian VET qualifications overseas, as well as a growing range of non-formal qualifications.

This is important in the Indo-Pacific region, and increasingly in Latin America.

For instance, the Indonesia – Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement will see greater opportunities for both countries to develop highly-skilled workforces;

Box Hill TAFE in Victoria is working closely with the Singapore Institute of Technical Training;

And there are extensive collaborations in Sri Lanka, India, China, Peru and Vietnam.

We’ll continue to work with the sector to ensure we have the right policy settings in place to further support international VET.

These policies will be important to meet the inevitable changes that come with technological disruption.

Our English language sector is also acknowledged globally as a strong performer.

We have seen significant activity recently to open up new education and knowledge partnerships that will bring great benefit to Australia, including the signing of Memorandums of Understandings on VET with Vietnam this year and Argentina and China on VET in 2017, as well as the establishment of a new Education Counsellor position in Mexico this year.

This highlights the important benefits of growing diversity within the sector of our top ten partner countries.

There is no doubt that diversification of our partnerships enriches and deepens the experience for international students and for our own communities, as we learn about cultures and countries, share knowledge and build a wider diversity of partnerships and friendships.

The growth in international education, particularly in the last five years, has been outstanding.

But Australia is seeing increasing competition internationally.

We should welcome competition because it will keep us focussed on the continual improvement of the student experience and educational outcomes.

Australia has inherent advantages as an international study destination – our way of life, our natural environment, our stability and openness – have always been our point of difference, and we need to build on that.

To confirm our position as a world leader in international education, I am happy this morning to provide the latest insights into the international experience.

Preliminary data from the Government’s biennial International Student Survey, to be released later this year, highlights the high levels of student satisfaction with their Australian experience.

More than 84,000 international students took part in the 2018 survey.

At a national level, 89 per cent of international university students and 87 per cent of international VET students reported they were satisfied with their overall study experience in Australia.

Higher scores were reported by international students in private higher education - 91% - and ELICOS - 90%.

Students reported high levels of satisfaction with their learning experience, and with the support received both on arrival and while studying.

Students also reported being very satisfied with their experience of living in Australia.

Our government has supported this growth in student satisfaction with $3 million towards the implementation of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.

This has included projects that support the student experience, communicating the benefits of international education and developing a nationally-consistent approach to marketing and branding of international education.

The government has also been looking at opportunities to create new products and supports within Australia and offshore.

For example, English Australia has recently completed a project to develop a stand-alone English market for learners from China, our largest market, to help support the English language sector.

One avenue of our improvement is through diversity. Diversity of study choices, diversity of location, diversity of partner countries, diversity of course offerings – diversity will make for a stronger, more resilient and sustainable sector into the future.

I welcome your views on how we can best do this and look forward to working with the sector as you take a leadership role. I welcome industry insights into how we can better deliver to international students and refine our offerings.

The Government is also maintaining a strong regulatory framework, ensuring that the legislative framework for international education and the national requirements on all providers of international education is fit for purpose and protect our high quality reputation.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency and the Australian Skills Quality Authority set a high bar for new providers to be accredited.

As in other parts of the education portfolio, when the regulatory frameworks has not been rigorous it has left us all open to exploitation – the students, the sector and the taxpayer.

We must ensure the integrity of the system.

Under the previous Labor Government’s VET FEE-HELP scheme, shonky operators flooded the sector and ripped off students and the tax payer, signing up unwitting students to courses that offered little real training and provided qualifications that were not worth the paper they were printed on.

Our Government acted with the VET Student Loans scheme, placing an emphasis, once again, on quality, and providing support for students looking to gain real skills while also strengthening Australia’s reputable VET providers.

In Early Childhood and Child Care, there have been notable cases of Family Day Care providers caught red-handed enrolling phantom children and accessing Government rebates for providing care for non-existent kids.

Our Government has cracked down on shonky practice and helped prevent around $2.8 billion being inappropriately paid to non-compliant and fraudulent child care providers in recent years.

International Education saw its own issues, with dodgy practices focused more on accessing permanent residency rather than accessing a good education. We now have regulatory arrangements in international education that protect the sector’s high quality reputation.

We have measures to strengthen the integrity of student recruitment agents and encourage greater transparency and leadership in student recruitment practices.

More than 40,000 student recruitment agents work with Australian education providers, and they play a central and valuable role.

75 per cent of students come through an agent, that’s nearly 470,000 students. This proportion is up over recent years and is higher than comparative countries.

My department exchanges data and intelligence with the relevant regulators – ASQA, TEQSA and the Overseas Students Ombudsman – to enhance collaborative regulatory activities, and increase the transparency of agent quality and performance.

We have developed the Agent Code of Ethics, have the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018.

My Department, Austrade, the Department of Home Affairs and the national regulators are working more closely with the sector to maintain standards and build on the good practices in this part of the international education sector.

Going forward, the Government will publish education agent performance data in consultation with agents and providers which will encourage both providers and students to work with high-performing agents.

We welcome the newly established – International Student Education Agents Association.

Our Government will not allow our international education sector to be over run by shonky providers and rorters.

As part of our renewed collective commitment to ensure Australia remains a world-leading study destination, we must all work to protect students from workplace exploitation.

The Government has strengthened protections for international students in Australia and I understand that Expert Members of the Council are developing a package to help reduce student workplace exploitation.

The sector is doing an outstanding job promoting Australia to the rest of the world. But we must also work to promote our education sector to the rest of Australia.

Australians should be proud of our international education system and understand the benefits to everyone.

The great global movement of students is one of the defining features of our increasingly globalised world.

And Australian students are part of that revolution – one in five will now have an international experience during their degree.

Tens of thousands of Australia and overseas students have benefited from the forerunners of the government’s new Endeavour Leadership Program, contributing to Australia’s influence globally.

The global education experience benefits us all through enhanced links across business, trade, investment, diplomacy, research and culture.

We have now more than 2.5 million international alumni who studied in Australian universities who will become leaders in government and industry in their home countries.

As a rural Member of Parliament, I want regional Australia to be a greater part of the international education story.

I want the international student cohort who come to Australia to have the opportunity to experience a different Australia – to live and study in our regions, to see the bush, to meet people from rural, regional and remote parts of the country and to build friendships.

How wonderful for kids in Bathurst, Bendigo or Bundaberg to live and study with students from China, Brazil or the United Kingdom.

The Government believes there is enormous potential in the international student market in regional Australia.

A great example is Cairns – where more than 32,000 international students from more than 30 countries – study there each year.

Many local families open their homes to students on short and longer-term stays, and the Cairns Student Hub ensures international students experience a strong sense of belonging and connection to the local community through engagement and relevant support.

Closer to home, Study Geelong plays a key role in promoting opportunities for international students to study in the city of Geelong.

The Chair of Regional Universities Network, Professor Greg Hill, says more international students in regional Australia will help build regional economies and social cohesion.

We have some great work already happening, such as Qantas announcing in September that Toowoomba will be the first site of its new pilot training school, training 250 students a year, including international students.

This is part of diversification.

We want more students to have experiences of engaging with our regions and I encourage you all to think about how we can achieve this.

We need to work harder to make sure that Australia understands the benefits of international education economically and culturally

Government can only do so much, and excellence must come from the sector, working in partnership with their local communities.

We need to ask ourselves – what kind of future do we imagine for our children, for our communities and for Australia?

We must work to make connections between the work we do internationally and how it relates to the progress and prosperity of our local communities.

How is this highly sophisticated, economically powerful and globalised sector helping Australian communities to thrive?

How is the work you do creating opportunities for economic growth, for innovation, for collaboration with international partners across our regions and rural areas?

How can we best utilise our natural advantages?

We need to ensure that this very important sector continues to grow, to thrive and be recognised for its world class excellence and leadership.

I look forward to working with you to make this happen.