Australian Education Minister Christopher Pyne has promised to open the jobs market to more overseas students who have graduated from Australian universities, as a means of rehabilitating the stagnant $14 billion international education industry.
In his first speech on the industry since he was sworn in as minister, Mr Pyne said yesterday the Abbott government would move quickly to extend the streamlined visa process beyond universities to training colleges, and maximise career opportunities in Australia for the best foreign graduates of our universities.
Monash University researcher Bob Birrell said he was troubled by any policy changes that used migration or easier labour market access as a lure to sell education, especially if it encouraged a repeat of last decade’s boom in low-quality diplomas pitched at foreign students seeking permanent residency.
“We know from past experience there are literally hundreds of operators who are skilled in packaging courses that provide the cheapest possible entry,” Dr Birrell said.
Under the Howard government, which linked gaining an Australian tertiary qualification with permanent residency, thousands of students swarmed into low-level vocational diplomas and dozens of dodgy private colleges exploited the lax policy.
Mr Pyne acknowledged past abuses and said preventing any repeat would be “very much part of our planning, to get that right”.
“But Labor used a sledgehammer to break a walnut (following the excesses of the education-migration boom) and we don’t want to repeat that error. But we also don’t want to go back to a situation where people lose faith in the quality of education in Australia.”
Mr Pyne told the Australian International Education Conference in Canberra he would work with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to maximise the international student market while maintaining visa integrity and educational quality.
Universities Australia welcomed Mr Pyne’s speech as showing the government’s intention “to turbo-charge international education policy against a backdrop of declining enrolments and export revenue”.
A report from accountancy firm Deloitte yesterday identified education exports as one of five “super-growth” sectors offering prosperity as the mining investment boom recedes.
At yesterday’s conference, attended by several hundred education delegates from around the world, Mr Pyne said Labor had presided over a decline in education exports from $18.6bn in 2009 to a little more than $14bn last year – “quite an achievement in a growing economy”.
He cited forecasts that the Asia-Pacific middle class would rise from 500 million to 3.2 billion by 2030, and that the number of young people in the world looking to study abroad would double to more than seven million by 2020.
The National Tertiary Education Union said last night it feared Mr Pyne’s proposal was part of a broader government strategy to avoid increasing taxpayer funding to universities.
Jeannie Rea, the union’s national president, said the government was seeking to increase international student fee revenue to universities rather than plug the direct funding gap faced by universities. “It becomes a cross subsidisation,” Ms Rea said.Source: The Australian – Christopher Pyne eyes jobs for overseas graduates
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