By DIRK MULDER
“My hope is that we can quickly get to unlimited numbers so that demand is the driver of numbers of incoming students, not the supply of available places,” Alan Tudge says
the good news: Mr Tudge says in the provided text of a Friday speech is that he believes “very significant numbers” of international students will return next year. “I cannot put a figure on that just yet, but my hope would be that tens of thousands can return, he told the Australian International Education Conference.
The minister reinforced his optimistic remarks at the English Australia conference last month (CMM September 20) and pointed to four factors that will make it possible for students to return;
* arrivals commencing when Australia has a 70 per cent vaccination rate, increasing at 80 per cent
* a coming system to interpret foreign vax certificates
* approval of foreign vaccines, which is critical for international students, especially from China and India
* home based quarantine, “potentially for a matter of days, not weeks.” “This is critical because, if successful, it can break the hotel quarantine bottleneck,” Mr Tudge said.
The minister also pointed to the NSW programme to welcome back 500 students. He added the Commonwealth is in discussions with South Australia and had received a Victorian proposal.
why it is so: reinforcing his support for the broad benefits of international education Mr Tudge added, “I cannot be clearer about our desire to get international students back into the country.
“They have been an incredible source of revenue for our institutions and other businesses, they generate important linkages across our neighbouring countries and many students have gone on to become outstanding citizens of our nation.”
“For the vast majority of students who return to their home country, they bring skills back and, in most cases, a fondness for our nation.”
ways to make it better: among the positives, the minister also mentioned improvements, warning, “we need to do things differently to make the sector more sustainable and to create new opportunities for growth.”
Thus, Mr Tudge called for less dependence on major country markets.
And he urged the industry to diversify what international students study, citing 50 per cent of enrolments being in commerce while areas such as IT, engineering, maths, health and other sciences are underrepresented.
He also repeated his previous call to grow the industry by “expanding our high-quality education offerings to offshore markets.”
“This could be in different delivery modes at different price points.”
And he again made it clear that while he welcomed institutions addressing these issues, the government could get involved, through the imminent 2030 international education strategy.
comment: Mr Tudge gets international education, including the vast soft power it provides Australia in the Asia-Pacific.
But he also recognises what the government might have to do if institutions will not. Too high a concentration of students from limited source countries puts institutions at financial risk and diminishes the overall student experience, for locals and internationals.
And he is right to warn against commerce accounting for half international enrolments, notably among international students who want to stay in Australia. They need skills that reflect the national need so they can first work in industries based on, for example, IT, engineering, maths, health and other sciences, whatever they do in the long-run.
Mr Tudge also grasps there is a bigger market – among students who want an Australian qualification but cannot afford to come here to study.
And he makes clear that he understands that there is more to the industry than billion dollar universities, that it is the shorter programme providers who have had an especially tough time. That Mr Tudge mentioned some universities have increased international enrolments (albeit offshore) during the pandemic may have been a remark made in passing (but probably wasn’t).
This is a speech that will appeal to people who want a single ministerial portfolio covering all education, export and immigration aspects of the industry.
Dirk Mulder advises education and business clients on trends in international education. He writes regularly for CMM