Australia and India bolster education ties amid chronic skills shortages

Published 23/08/2022

Marred by chronic skills shortages, with a requirement of around 500,000 skilled workers in the immediate term, Australia is increasingly pivoting towards India.

The south Asian country has proven to be a time-tested and reliable partner in Australia’s largest services export, the international education sector, with Indian students making up the second largest cohort from any other country and contributing more than $6 billion per annum.

The visit of India’s education minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, and the next month’s Skills and Jobs Summit in Canberra, are happening at a somewhat ideal timing.

On his four-day visit to Australia, Pradhan met with his Australian counterpart, Jason Clare, for the Australia-India Education Council meeting this week. Co-chaired by the Australian and Indian education ministers, the AIEC is the principal bi-lateral body for driving the Australia-India education, training and research agenda.

“India is one of Australia’s closest international partners, and our two countries have a strong history of bilateral cooperation in education and research,” Clare said.

“Our two countries have a strong history of bilateral cooperation in education and research”

The Australian education minister said that the meeting “reaffirmed” the Australia-India partnership — including through collaboration in the Australian Researcher Cooperation Hub and the Australia-India Research Students Fellowship.

“These programs are run by the Australia India Institute and funded by the Australian government to drive collaboration and innovation between our two countries,” Clare noted.

“Australia and India have a long history of partnership and cooperation. Yet there remains untapped potential to deepen our research links,” Lisa Singh, CEO of the Australia India Institute, said on the occasion.

“Both countries have advanced research and development capabilities. Here is an opportunity to reveal and connect the unique expertise of both nations and work together to address the complex challenges facing the Indo-Pacific and the world.

“Education is the biggest trading opportunity for the Australia-India relationship. Deepening our research and innovation ties will boost bilateral relations and support India to meet growing demand in the sector,” Singh highlighted.

The Indian education minister mentioned via twitter that he has invited “Australian universities and skilling institutions to set up their campuses in India and also explore areas of collaboration”.

“I invite all Australian universities and Skill Institutions to explore opportunities in India, create mechanisms for learning from each-others best practices for transforming our countries into knowledge economies and for prosperity of people in both our countries,” Pradhan said.

“Both Australia and India have several opportunities to work together in the areas of skills assessment, qualifications & skills recognition, curriculum development, workforce development. A future-ready workforce in our countries will better prepare us to unlock global opportunities,” he noted.

Earlier this year, the two countries set up task force for qualifications recognition and announced an interim free trade agreement aiming to “turbocharge” collaboration.

“Our world-leading research partnerships with India are leveraging our collective research strengths to tackle the grand, often complex challenges, facing both countries,” Barney Glover, vice-chancellor and president of the Western Sydney University said this week.

“Together we are delivering real and lasting impact for many millions of people in Australia and India, while also promoting industry development, commercialisation opportunities and capacity building across the region.”

The visit of India’s minister for education, who is also the minister for skill development and entrepreneurship, comes at a time when Australia is grappling with an acute skills shortage — which permeates across nearly all sectors of the country’s economy.

“We’ve had some fantastic meetings with the Indian Education Minister who’s in town this week,” Catriona Jackson, Universities Australia chief executive said.

“1.3 billion people live in India, and they have an ambition to make sure that half a billion of their citizens are educated by 2035. Those numbers are just eye-watering for Australians. Indian students have played a great role here,” she explained in an interview with Sky News this morning.

“We think they’ll continue to play a great role. We’d like a few more of them to stay here, but also as a sector, we take our role in educating the region really seriously. And that’s part of us being a responsible citizen, but also getting a great flow of skilled migration.

“Building on our strong bilateral relationship in HE and the research sector will be beneficial to both nations”

“The vast majority of students go home or go off to global careers somewhere else. If we just increase that percentage slightly, we’ll go a long way to sorting out the skill shortage that we’re facing.” Jackson noted, highlighting that only about 16% of Australia’s international students choose to stay.

Australia is poised to have the creation of 1 million jobs in the next couple of years, with half of them requiring a university degree. India is a key partner to Australia not only in terms of the education relationships, but also in terms of providing a long term solution to the skilling needs of the country.

“Our engagement with India, the world’s fastest-growing economy, is critical to the future ­success of our sector. Building on our strong bilateral relationship in HE and research sector will be beneficial to both nations,” Vicki Thomson, chief executive of The Group of Eight said on social media.

“The recent signing of our historic trade agreement with India will unlock more opportunities to grow our relationship and cooperate more closely for the benefit of both our nations,” Jackson added in a statement.

“Australia and India’s universities are already collaborating closely, with 452 formal partnerships between them – four times as many as there were in 2007.

“Breaking down barriers to closer collaboration will position our countries strongly to solve challenges and embrace opportunities into the future,” Jackson concluded.

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