SUBJECTS: Australia and China, Council for International Education, Return of international students
Fran Kelly: Well, Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. He’ll be chairing today’s meeting. I spoke with him earlier.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Fran.
Kelly: Minister, before I get to today’s meeting, how concerned are you that the outright hostility on show this week between Canberra and Beijing will affect the desire of Chinese students, or the intention of Chinese students, to study in Australia?
Tehan: Look, all indications at the moment, Fran, are that the Chinese students want to return to Australia to be able to study. We’re also seeing strong commencements online from Chinese students and I, you know, my hope is that everyone can understand that the mutual benefit that accrues from Australia’s international education system. Obviously, $40 billion worth of income for us, 250,000 jobs created, but also a world-class education that’s provided to Chinese students and all other international students who come here to study.
Kelly: You know, other industries, Australian industries, are taking a big hit from China – Australian wine, barley, lobster, timber. Why not students? And, you know, I wonder why you’re so confident given that? And, this is critical, isn’t it, because our higher education exports to China are worth $12 billion dollars?
Tehan: That’s right, very important part of our services trade with China. And, we want to make sure that that services trade continues, because, as I’ve said, it’s of mutual benefit to both China and to Australia, and we’ll continue to seek dialogue with China. We want to make sure that we can get our trade relationship back on track, because it’s in mutual benefit to both countries.
Kelly: Have you had any better luck, than other ministers, with speaking to your Chinese counterpart?
Tehan: Look, I haven’t spoken to my Chinese counterpart. But, I remain willing …
Kelly: … For how long? …
Tehan: … and able. To be honest with you, I haven’t had a conversation with my Chinese counterpart since I’ve been in this job. But, as you’ve seen, the figures with Chinese students have remained relatively strong, and I continue to hope that they will do so, because it’s mutually beneficial to both nations.
Kelly: Have you tried to reach out to your Chinese counterpart?
Tehan: Look, we’ve had some engagement through diplomatic channels, but there hasn’t been a, obviously, there hasn’t been direct conversations between me and my counterpart.
We remain, you know, made it very clear that we would be happy to have a discussion on international higher education. But, at this stage, that hasn’t occurred.
Kelly: Are you going to keep trying?
Tehan: Always happy to speak to anyone, Fran. The door’s always open, always happy to talk to anyone, and would be more than ready and willing to talk to my Chinese counterpart, as I would be with my counterparts right across the world.
Kelly: Let’s move to today’s meeting. We heard earlier from Phil Honeywood, the National Executive Director of the International Education Association. They’re proposing that international students come into the country and quarantine in student accommodation for 14 days. Is that an option the Federal Government’s considering?
Tehan: Well, what the Federal Government has done is engage with states and territories, who are responsible for the quarantine of returning Australians and others who are coming to Australia. We asked them to submit plans as to how we could deal with international students coming back to Australia. Now, some of those states have provided those plans. We’ve got draft plans from the, Western Australia and Northern Territory. New South Wales have advised that they’re likely to submit a plan this week. The ACT, Victoria and South Australia have requested additional time. And, Queensland and Tasmania, we’re just waiting for them to advise on their final plans. So, that’s where we’re at, at the moment. We want to look at those plans. We’ve obviously said the priority remains returning Australians, but we want to work with states and territories to see what we can do to get international students returning after Christmas. Obviously, our priority has been to get Australians home for Christmas, and to see whether we can work with them to get the pipeline of international students started.
Kelly: Okay. But, Phil Honeywood also told us yesterday that the Prime Minister certainly indicated that from January onwards he’s happy and comfortable – that was the words used – with international students coming here to commence their first semester study. I’m just wondering if you can tell us, from the Federal Government perspective, what, what would make the Government, the Prime Minister, happy and comfortable with this, in terms of the rules around quarantining? Would they have to go to hotel quarantine for the Prime Minister and the, and you, to be happy and comfortable? Or, could you be happy and comfortable with the notion of students quarantining in student accommodation?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, that’s the decision for the chief medical officers for, at the state and territory level. We’ve made it very clear that the plans need to be ticked off by state and territory medical officers. They’re the ones who have ultimate responsibility for quarantine at the state and territory level. So, that’s a decision for them.
Kelly: I’m sure you’ve thought deeply about it. I’m sure you’ve talked to state ministers about it, as they develop these plans. We’ve got the example of Charles Darwin University. It’s managed to bring back, I think, 300 international students so far, who are currently quarantined at the Howard Springs facilities. Is that a model that you would urge the premiers and chief ministers to consider? Each to have their own, sort of, Howard Springs set up?
Tehan: Well, that was a pilot which, obviously, was approved with the Northern Territory Government. And, those students, I think there was only 70 that, in that first pilot from the Northern Territory, which came in early this week. So, look, if the chief medical officers of the state and territory feel that that model – and that’s why we conducted this pilot, there will be another pilot which will go ahead from South Australia, early in the new year.
Kelly: There are concerns in the education sector that Canada and the UK are actually actively luring international students to study there, instead of here, because our borders remain closed. Are we missing out?
Tehan: Well, this is, obviously, one of the issues that we have to deal with. But, the thing is, we’ve been able to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in a way, which, I think, is the envy of most of the world, and we’ve done that through what we’ve been able to do in controlling, you know, international borders. Now, obviously, the UK and Canada haven’t been able to enjoy the success that we’ve had. So, we have to take into consideration how we’ve dealt with the coronavirus pandemic in this nation, and then look at how we can safely bring international students back, understanding how successful we’ve been in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Kelly: Dan Tehan, thank you very much for joining us.
Tehan: Thanks Fran.
Kelly: Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister.