G’day Peter Coaldrake and other TEQSA Commissioners, to the vice chancellors on the line, as well as the 900 other participants of this Conference. Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words at the very beginning of the conference today. But in the same breath can I say a very big thank you Peter for you and your team for the work that you have done over the last 12 to 18 months during this pandemic which has truly been extraordinary.
And I think particularly about the assistance which you have provided to institutions to go to online learning, setting up the new integrity unit, particularly to crack down on some of those commercial cheating providers, obviously introducing and overseeing the introduction of the new provider category standards which incorporated or included the first new university in many, many years. You’ve done so much and I really thank you and I look forward to continuing to work with you in the months ahead.
My main message today though to those listening is that we are very much in the COVID recovery phase and that means, as much as humanly possible we want to see universities back to as close to normal as we can. The biggest indicator of the fact that we’re in the post-pandemic recovery phase is the fact that international students will be able to return to Australia from the first of December this year, which as you know we announced earlier this week.
Big news, and I know that will be welcomed by the sector and welcomed by the 160,000 students who are presently offshore who want to return to Australia or want to start their course early next year.
On top of that though I’m announcing today, which you may have seen in the papers, that we are putting in place some additional measures and some additional visa flexibility to help accelerate the return of international students.
Now, those specific measures include extending the waiving of some of the regulatory fees such as the TEQSA fees or the CRICOS fees and the TBS levy as well as we’ll be extending the FEE-HELP Loan Fee exemption for another 12 months and on top of that rolling out for a further year those innovation grants which are particularly oriented to the English language providers. So, all of that is really going to help with the acceleration of the return of international students.
Then Alex Hawke has been announcing today, as well, a couple of important new visa policy changes to again fulfil that objective of accelerating the return. One being to ensure that no one is disadvantaged with their post-study work rights by being offshore and so we’ll extend those provisions. But the second important one as well is that we’ll be extending post-study work rights from two years to three years for those students who are doing a masters by coursework, and I think that will have a good impact as well to encourage more students to go down that pathway.
So good news for international students, the borders are opened and we’ve put in place these additional measures which will hopefully encourage the acceleration of those students to return to Australia and certainly get next year off to a cracking start.
I suppose in the same breath, and in that same theme in wanting to be back as much as normal as possible, we certainly want to see our campuses back open next year and stay open for those students who signed up to have face-to-face learning. That’s so important, the expectations are there, and I know you’ll be seeking to deliver that.
Finally, I wanted to say something about the research agenda. Last night, the Prime Minister announced the first policy announcement of ours on our research commercialisation agenda which we’ve been working on together for the last 12 months and being advised by an expert advisory panel as well.
And you’ll see that policy, which is in the newspapers today, about the trailblazing universities which really is setting up, to fund to the tune of $50 to $60 million, a university or a cluster of universities to be a trailblazer in one of our national priority areas and to very much focus on research commercialisation in that priority area. So there’s some conditions attached to that which you’ll see in the guidelines, but we really want to see some great bids on this and I’m confident that they will be coming forward. And we want those universities to be the showcases and the exemplars for what can be done in that research commercialisation space and then we’ll have further announcements in the weeks ahead in a similar vein.
Let me finish up by just saying a very big thank you to all of you on the line today. It’s been a tough year and a half, but the worst is behind us and I just want to thank you for your persistence. Thank you too, particularly for the university leadership for working closely with me, my office and my department as we’ve got through this and I’m very much looking forward to having a bright new year where our universities start to get back to normal.
Thanks very much for having me.