Tuesday, October 26, 2010

International Education In Australia; How can I make a difference?

The past 12 months have been a challenging time for any institution offering programs within Australia to international students. An industry that had been very proud of its achievement in becoming Australia's $18 billion-dollar export poster child, employing more than 125,000 people, has found itself facing a barrage of negative publicity and sliding enrolments since student safety issues came to a head in Melbourne in 2009. Regardless of what or who is to blame for the slide in reputation of "Brand Australia", an uncomfortable truth has dawned on many - the Australian public barely cares.

As an industry we imagined that the benefits to Australia of our activities and the presence of international students in our institutions and society are self-evident and as a result, we haven't focussed the necessary energy on arguing our case. I, like many others, observed the xenophobic pronouncements on migration from all quarters in the recent federal election and was deeply disappointed. Bruce Baird recently noted how the Australian Government would willingly support an ailing (and strategically insignificant) car industry but would not dream of considering any form of help to international education to weather the storm. Even though visa changes have played a key negative role. I believe an important difference in the way we are politically considered is international education's well-educated, white-collar workforce can be expected to re-train if need be, and there is not the concern in the community of loss of employment that accompanies any prospective problems in a "blue-collar" industry.

So what can we, as individuals, achieve to turn this around and get the positive vibes following again?

When we have conversations with people outside of our industry, we've got to start converting people to our cause and explain the basics time-and-time again. There's a need to get the simple messages out and not get bogged down in arguments about the rights and wrongs of higher education funding - important for sure, but no political side will change this set of circumstances so it's all in the realm of the hypothetical. In my conversations, I try to stay away from discussing the financial benefits where possible but I do make sure I get in the following points:
  • International students, through the funds they contribute, help Australian students access more courses, they never "take" away available places in higher education. Yet 50% of the general population believe this!
  • Very few international students will actually migrate permanently to Australia (10-20%) - regardless of our attitude to increased migration or the future size of Australia's population; we should have nothing to fear by having them as guests in our country for a few years.
  • Just because the Government undervalues and underfunds Higher education, and Universities look to gain revenue from international students, that's not a reason to decry the quality and value of the educational experience that such students gain in Australia.
Normally, I'm pleasantly surprised how easy it can be to change opinions once these are explained - but I have had to work hard on some occasions...

Just think, if 125,000 people just spoke to 10 people that's a million people on our side.

Let's get to it.


  1. From our involvement with both International Students and other types of Australian Immigration Visas, one obvious area that would return massive benefits is for the Government and the Education Institutions to work more closely with the 4,000 plus Australian Registered Migration Agents http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/agent-stats/migration-agent-statistics.htm

    It is a large, Professional, regulated Network that can be encouraged to be become more actively involved for the mutual benefits of all involved.

    Wayne Harrison
    MARN 0901108

  2. Dear Chris
    Congratulations on your work.
    One of the things that are major and are affecting us agents is the: ESOS ACT 2000
    DEEWR - DIAC Course Progress Policy and
    Procedures for CRICOS Providers of VET
    Courses ( http://aei.gov.au/AEI/ESOS/QuickInfo/DIAC_Course_pdf.pdf )

    This policy makes possible that the dodgy schools operate and have CRICOS allowing them to sell courses for International Students that are not legitimate, students that are not really interested in studying, but working. These schools are many and agencies do promote these VET dodgy schools, because they believe that because they have CRICOS they are ok.
    However, they are not OK, and DEST, CRICOS, DIAC, and all the government bodies, cannot do anything, because this is protected by this policy ( http://aei.gov.au/AEI/ESOS/QuickInfo/DIAC_Course_pdf.pdf )
    So, how can the reputation of the Australian Education System be strong, when students look for courses that they only attend 1 or 2 times a week, where they study Certificate I, II and III of Sports and Recreation, being accepted with no English proficiency or less than acceptable English proficiency? How can this be good to Australia and how can the GOOD schools survive, when they are losing a large chunk of the market for this dodgy VET schools?
    How can this policy be changed and to be implemented 80% attendance as the ELICOS courses have?
    Who should I write to?
    Thanks Chris, I hope you can do something about it.


    Alain Daniel Ruthenberg Bcomm (Bond), MBA (Bond)
    Qualified Education Agent Counselor QEAC No: F079

  3. Wayne,

    Fair comment and it's good to see that the Migration Institute of Australia are getting more involved in the international education space.