Thank you for that very warm welcome and can I say how wonderful it is to be here with you today. Vice-Chancellor, can I thank you for your opening remarks and for your warm welcome as well. Can I also acknowledge the High Commissioner who is here with us today, who’s doing a wonderful job here in Malaysia as Australia’s representative.
A month ago, I was in one of the small towns in my constituency, the town of Warrnambool. It has a population of 32,000 and it has an institute of higher education. We were there to celebrate 50 years of the institute operating successfully in the town of Warrnambool. As part of the celebration, they asked two students to speak. One of them was an Australian student who had been educated at the institute and gone on to have a very successful career.
The second person they asked to speak was a Malaysian-Australian. Fifty years ago, he hopped on a plane, the youngest of seven, to come to Melbourne and head to Warrnambool to study. He’d never been to Warrnambool. He had no idea where it was or what opportunities would be there for him. When he arrived, he said he cried and cried and cried as he headed to Warrnambool, not knowing what his family had done for him or done to him. But he arrived. He was warmly welcomed into the community, he studied accounting successfully, then went to work for two years in the local accountancy business. He then decided that he would like to stay in Australia and continue his accountancy. He worked his way up the firm to eventually become the CEO, which went on to become the largest accountancy firm in Victoria outside of Melbourne. He also began participating in the local community by volunteering; and he became an expert photographer who now takes some of the best photos of regional and rural Victoria that you will see. He was extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities that have been given to him from being able to study in Australia.
Now, not all our success stories are about Malaysians who come to Australia and decide to stay. There are also many success stories of Malaysians who have come to Australia and returned to your wonderful country. As a matter of fact, I’ve been here now for two-and-a-half days and there is not a meeting with a Minister, with a Vice-Chancellor, with business leaders that I’ve had where there has not been a connection between Australia and Malaysia which has been forged through education. The relationship that we have, which has been formed by education, I think, is truly unique and truly remarkable. It gives us something in our relationship that is quite, quite different to any other relationship that our country, and I think your country, has with any other country in the rest of the world. It is something that we all should cherish and should ensure that we continue to grow it.
It’s a relationship which has its foundations back to 1951, Vice-Chancellor, to when the Colombo Plan was first put in place. All of us have to ensure that for the next 50 years our relationship in education continues to grow as well and that we build on the wonderful foundations that we have. As Australia’s Education Minister there is nothing more that I would like than to see our two countries continue to enhance and grow our relationship through education.
Now, how should we do that? What are the policies that we should put in place to make that happen? To start with, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to understand that any partnership has to be a two-way partnership. It’s got to be beneficial for both countries. It’s got to work in Australia’s interests and it’s got to work in Malaysia’s interests. And if we can do that, then I think we will guarantee success. It’s why I was so pleased yesterday to be able to launch a new partnership that will be cementing the relationship here in Malaysia. It’s the relationship that the University of Wollongong has with KDU, one of your higher education providers, which will ultimately see the University of Wollongong become the operator of campuses here in Malaysia. Now, what is unique about what the University of Wollongong will be offering its students who study at the Malaysian campus, will be opportunities to visit their campuses in Australia but also their campuses in Hong Kong and in Dubai. So you will be able to get an education with the possibility of studying at three other different campuses in three different countries.
And Vice-Chancellor, it was wonderful to see that UKM are also offering opportunities for student mobility because that, I think, is one of the exciting opportunities that can be offered today. As a young student 30 years ago, I had the opportunity to go and study in the United Kingdom for a year but it was very structured. You went, you worked, you studied; for a set period, did a certain degree and then returned home. Now we’ve got to make sure that those opportunities offer more flexibility – like shorter courses – or to be able to go and study at multiple campuses between multiple countries. I think if we can do that, we will really enhance the education that all young students continue to get.
I think one of the other things that we’re also going to look at offering is to make sure young students have opportunities across many fields. So, one of the things that we’re looking to do in Australia is to make it easier for you to move between vocational education and higher education because the jobs of the future are going to require you to have multiple skills, not just those skills that you’ve learnt through higher education, but also in some instances you’ll need vocational education skills and vice versa. The jobs of the 21st century are going to require you to have multiple skills, multiple approaches, to how you learn and work, and therefore, we’ve got to make sure that our higher education system and our vocational education system will give you those offerings.
We also want to make sure that our qualifications framework is adaptable in that regard and that is why in Australia we have conducted a big review into our Australian qualifications framework so that we can ensure that when you come and study in Australia you will have opportunities to study in a variety of fields. Another interesting development that we have in Australia is we want you to be able to start getting units for your higher education or your vocational education through your secondary schooling. So rather than having a secondary schooling system which is distinct and set apart from tertiary education, we want to make sure that there is a seamless flow between our secondary education into our tertiary education. And the other key component that we’re looking at is how we can get industry and business to work more collaboratively with our higher education providers, something I know here at UKM you are also looking at.
One of the big challenges that Australia has as a nation – and as I understand it, Malaysia has as a nation – is ensuring that we continue to provide students to fill the skills gaps that we have as a nation. And for us, those skills gaps are in providing workers for our disability sector, for our child care sector, and also for our aged care sector. But also in the fields of technology, making sure that we have students who study STEM, who can go into working in cyber-security, in information technology. These are our challenges, and these are some of the challenges that you are also facing in Malaysia.
So we are also looking at whether we need different types of higher education providers to fill these skill gaps, whether it be public universities, whether it be private universities, whether it be national institutions, or whether it be institutions that just work with particular communities to deliver the type of skills that those students will need in their local economies. That’s quite substantial change to how higher education and tertiary education will operate in Australia. And these are challenges that I know you’re addressing here in Malaysia as well.
Now what is the message that I want to give to you as students today? The one message that I would love to leave with you is that Australia warmly welcomes international students and wants to continue to grow our international student market. Currently we earn around AUD$37 billion through our international education sector. It is our fourth biggest export earner, and we want to make sure that we continue to develop and grow our international education sector. So for any of you who are contemplating going overseas to study, whether it be a part of your degree or a whole degree, please think about Australia.
There are a couple of things that our education system has to offer. One is employability once you finish your degree. For Malaysians who have come to Australia and who have studied there, 94 per cent who have returned to look for work have found employment within six to nine months.
The second thing is when you look at Malaysian student satisfaction with their experience of study in Australia, the satisfaction rates are also in the high 90s. We also offer post-study work rights. So if you come and study in Australia you can stay for an additional two years, and in some cases three to four years, to work in Australia post your qualification. And these are things that we will continue to develop, continue to enhance, and continue to grow because we think they’re an important part of what we offer as part of studying a higher education degree in Australia.
And one of the things I’ve really enjoyed while I've been here in Malaysia has been exploring the policies that we have in Australia and exchanging views about what happens here in Malaysia. Through our new Colombo Plan what we are doing is providing incentives and support for Australian students to come to Malaysia. And my hope is over time that they will be able to enjoy some of the benefits that Malaysian students enjoy in Australia. That Australian students will continue to enjoy benefits here in Malaysia, because once again that two-way approach to the exchange of students is going to be so, so important.
Yesterday I met about 40 Australian students who are studying here in Malaysia. In the last decade over 7,000 Australian students have come to Malaysia to study. Speaking with those Australian students who are studying here, all of them have found it a wonderful experience. All of them have found that they got an incredibly warm welcome, and so, can I say to all of you here – thank you for how you warmly welcome Australian students to your country.
I think if we can continue to make sure that is the welcome that you provide, and that is the welcome that we provide to our students, we will see the market continue to grow.
There is one lesson that we all must learn and that is, like any market, the higher education market is competitive so you cannot rest on your laurels. You may be performing well today, but if you’re not careful and don’t keep adapting and adopting your policies then you will find other countries will leap ahead of you.
Australia hopes to have the huge honour of becoming the second most popular destination for international students this year. To do so we will surpass the United Kingdom and be second behind the United States as the most popular place to get a higher education. But we know as a government that we can’t stand still.
If we don’t keep refreshing our offering, offering different degrees, trying different approaches, offering short courses, English language courses, stop investing offshore, then the market will slowly decline. So one thing you can be certain is that what you will see from the Australian Government and the Australian people is we will continue to look at ways that can grow our higher education market. One of the things that’s been very pleasing to hear in Malaysia is you have very clear strategies to also make sure that you enhance and grow your education market. And that is something that I would very much like to continue to work together with the Malaysian Government on, so that both countries can continue to grow their higher education markets.
Another thing that we’re doing in Australia which I think is incredibly important is making sure that the things our universities have been famous for, continue to be famous for in the next century. One of those things is the autonomy of universities to operate. We have been very keen to ensure that our university sector has the autonomy to ensure they have freedom of academic inquiry at our universities. We want our universities to feel free to be able to inquire about any subject matter right across the board. Hand in hand with that is freedom of speech. We want to ensure that our universities are places where you can have debate, where you can have discussion, where people can come and freely express their ideas because those two things – freedom of academic inquiry and freedom of speech – have been essential to ensuring that our universities can develop the ideas and can do the research that ultimately benefits not only nations, but the globe.
So what we did last year to ensure that our universities are places where freedom of academic inquiry and freedom of speech are paramount, is we asked one of our former Chief Justices of the High Court, the most senior judicial officer in our country, to do a review to ensure that we have freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry. And he put in place a model code that he thinks all universities in Australia should adopt in this regard. We’re in the process of ensuring that all our universities have this model code to protect freedom of speech and freedom of academic inquiry. Once again we are ensuring that we’re not standing still, not taking things for granted, making sure that we continue to ensure that our universities offer the fundamentals which are so, so important to a learning environment.
Can I conclude by saying it’s wonderful to be here with you. Being in a lecture hall makes me wish I was 30 years younger and attending lectures to inquire, to learn, to understand, because it is just so important for our future. Can I thank you for the wonderful welcome that you’ve given me.
This is my first overseas visit as Australia’s Education Minister. To be able to come to Malaysia with the rich history that we share in education, to come here on my first visit has been incredibly important to me and I’m so, so, so, so pleased that it was Malaysia that I chose for my first country to visit because the warmth, the joy, the smiles and the people that I’ve encountered and the love for both our countries that I’ve seen has been incredibly fulfilling for me personally. I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful show of the strength of our relationship and that we will be able to continue to grow our wonderful relationship.