As one of the two countries in Asia-Pacific with a majority of native English speakers, Australia has been a favorite destination for thousands of students in the region seeking a world-class education abroad and first-rate qualifications that are recognized anywhere in the world.
The appeal of Australia, among these international students, lies in the multicultural diversity of its population, the variety of its natural surroundings and urban centers, and its easygoing lifestyle. And because of its geographic proximity, the country remains a favorite among Chinese students.
So, when the coronavirus pandemic erupted last year, the government had the daunting task of keeping the country’s education sector just as attractive and making it more resilient because its universities, schools and other education providers is among the biggest generators of revenue.
Trade Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan spoke to GMI Post last year and outlined the various measures taken by the federal government to address the COVID-19 global pandemic. The minister emphasized the importance of ensuring the health and safety of everybody in the education sector, providing students with flexible options to continue their studies and further strengthen the sector to maintain its attractiveness to international students.
GMI Post: How have Australian universities adapted to recent changes in the global educational environment?
Tehan: Australia focused on suppressing the COVID-19 virus and ensuring the safety of every resident in this country. Australia has done well on both the health and economic fronts compared to most countries around the world.
Australian Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers received support from the Australian Government, including our regulators, in implementing temporary online delivery options for both domestic and international students. This effort served the health and wellbeing interests of students and the broader community while maintaining continuity in their education.
GMI Post: What competitive advantages do Australian universities have for international students?
Tehan: Australia is a world leader in quality international education and training. Our success is built on our reputation for providing a world-class education and for nurturing a safe and welcoming environment in which to study, live and work.
Five Australian universities are in the global top 50 on the QS World University Rankings 2021, 11 others are in the top 200. Eight Australian universities were ranked in the top 100 in the world for graduate employability. Also, in 2019, three Australian cities featured in the top 10 most livable cities in the world (Melbourne #2, Sydney #3 and Adelaide #10).
Education in Australia is underpinned by a strong regulatory system that ensures not only the quality but also support for international students. Universities are required to support students so they can adjust to life in and outside of the campus. They have strategies in place for students who are at risk of failing their course.
They must also have support staff to meet the needs of international students, including those studying online or by distance learning.
We also have a world-leading legislative framework for supporting the high-quality delivery of education to international students, which guarantees that international student fees will be reimbursed or that students are transferred if an institution ceases operations.
GMI Post: How do international students contribute positively to Australia?
Tehan: International students are our friends, classmates, colleagues and members of our community. International education brings a cultural and linguistic depth to our schools, vocational institutions, universities, workplaces and communities, which help all students gain skills and allow them to take advantage of the opportunities arising in an increasingly globalized and technologically interconnected world.
Australia is an open, friendly, multicultural society. We have welcomed people from all over the world to share in our community.
Australians embrace different cultures and we embrace our international students.
GMI Post: How important are Chinese students, in particular, to Australia?
Tehan: Australia warmly welcomes Chinese students into our country and our communities. China is also one of the most popular destinations for Australian students participating in student mobility programs funded by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan.
China has long been Australia’s largest source of international students with more than 212,000 Chinese students studying here in 2019.
When Chinese students return home, they are representatives of the quality and value of the Australian education system and continue being an important part of the people to people link between our countries.
This strong basis of student exchange has long been the foundation of an incredibly rich and diverse education relationship between our two countries.
GMI Post: What distinguishes Australia from other Commonwealth countries when it comes to its international educational experience for Chinese students?
Tehan: Australian schools are among the finest in the world because small class sizes, university-trained and qualified teachers, world-class curricula and high-quality facilities.
Our practical, competency based Vocational Education and Training system is integrated with industry, with teaching conducted by experienced industry professionals to ensure that students gain real-world skills needed for 21st century jobs. Our higher education system has a strong track record as seen in our representation in world rankings and has a long history of producing world-leading research.
Australia is attractive to students for the same reason that it is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Our diverse natural environment offers a range of experiences from golden beaches to national parks and our unique plants and animals.
Australia also has generous work rights for those with student visas. They are able to work up to 40 hours per fortnight during a semester and full-time during the semester break. This can be a great way to find study-related work, which enables students to make connections with the community beyond the classroom while making friends and, for many international students, providing a great opportunity to improve their English language skills. Post study students may be eligible to continue living and working in Australia for a further two years.
GMI Post: What measures is Australia taking to attract more international students?
Tehan: Our staff both in Australia and overseas continuously work with governments around the world to build connections, share policies and promote the country as a world-leading education destination. Our regulators have also recognized the need for flexibility at this time and have provided much needed support to ensure that international students are able to engage with Australian institutions and their fellow students.
Australian governments and universities are working hard to bring students back, initially through pilot projects, to ensure that we have put in place the right arrangements to protect public health and support students.