Australian peak bodies seek ties with Indian partners

Published 27/09/2022

Peak bodies in Australia are looking to cement ties with partners in India, with leaders from Universities Australia joining a delegation to the South Asian country this week.

Additionally, the organisation representing research-intensive universities in Australia, the Group of Eight, has submitted input to the Australia-India Education Qualifications Recognition Taskforce.

The governments announced the initiative earlier this year in a bid to enhance educational, research and economic collaboration, with the view to eventually recognise each other’s qualifications.

Chief executive of Universities Australia Catriona Jackson will visit India with industry leaders this week hoping to “cement” Australian higher education’s place at the centre of the country’s trade agenda with India.

The organisation pointed to India’s position as second largest source market for students, accounting for 16.3% of enrolments in 2022 and Indian students contributing more than $6.4 billion to Australia’s economy in 2019.

“It’s in our national interest to export more of what pays our way”

“Education is the biggest export we don’t source from the ground,” she said. “It’s in our national interest to export more of what pays our way, and we can do that by educating more Indian students in Australia and through our universities having a physical presence in India.

“There is mutual benefit in doing this. International education drives economic growth in Australia and strengthens our social fabric. When students return home, they have the skills and knowledge to make a positive contribution in their own country,” Jackson added, pointing to the 450 university partnerships already connecting the two countries.

The Australia India Business Exchange Mission 2022 will be in India from September 26-30, and comes shortly after India’s education minister travelled to Australia.

“There is clearly a strong appetite for education to play a greater role in the Australia-India relationship,” Jackson said.

“With one million Indians turning 18 every month, there is huge demand for a high-quality education and Australia stands ready to partner more closely with India to achieve our shared education goals.”

In its submission to taskforce consultations, Go8 said it supports the government’s efforts to deepen and strengthen engagement with India.

Covid-related border closures of 2020 and 2021 “laid bare the degree to which Australia relies on an influx of international talent, especially in key professions”, the organisation said.

Go8 emphasised that 61% of IT, 43% of engineering and related technologies and 30% of architecture and building enrolments were international students in 2020. At PhD and masters levels, international higher degree research students accounted for 56% of IT, 61% of engineering and related technologies, 44% of agriculture and environmental studies and 40% of natural and physical sciences enrolments.

International agreements can facilitate the flow of talent, Go8 continued, pointing to the innovation component of the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement that is “intended to accommodate rapid technological development and facilitate engagement on emerging technologies”.

Following the signing of the FTA in late 2021, Go8 said it would deepen collaboration in research and mobility with its UK counterpart, the Russell Group.

Governmental agreements can also support for the recognition of professional qualifications and increased collaboration between accreditation and regulatory bodies.

“Qualifications recognition is an important pre-requisite for the successful implementation of mobility agreements,” Go8 said in its submission.

“The Go8 also supports the work of the task force in seeking to improve policy settings for the recognition of Australian and Indian qualifications, guided by quality considerations and international principles in qualifications recognition,” it added.

“However, to obtain the full benefit of international mobility, graduates also need to be able to practice their skills within the Australian workforce.”

It added that the task force should consider how work rights and the benefits of employing international graduates might be promoted to Australian employers.

“A campaign to promote the value and ability to access this pool of international talent could assist both Australian employers and international graduates to gain the greatest benefit from their education,” it said.

The news comes as Canberra has revealed plans to refresh its Australia’s Science and Research Priorities from 2015 and the long-term approach to its science system through the 2017 National Science Statement.

The federal government has said that “revitalising” the two documents – led by chief scientist, Cathy Foley – will help to develop a national policy framework that “embeds science into government decision making” and “better align efforts and investment in science to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits for all Australians”.

According to Higher Education Strategy Associates, public spending in Australia on higher education rose by a little over 20% from 2006 to 2018, roughly in line with Canada, New Zealand and the US, but as a percentage of GDP, spending fell slightly, like other comparative countries.

“Total expenditures of public HEIs grew more quickly, thanks to large infusions of income from international students,” its 2022 report stated.

Stakeholders have previously raised concerns around relying on international students’ fees to fund higher education institutions and research in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that revenue from overseas students shrank from AUS$20.2bn ($13.8bn) in the year to June, compared with $38.7bn for the same period in 2019.

“In preparing for the future we must continue to invest in our researchers and their ideas”

In April this year, Vicki Thomson from Go8, said, “Relying on international student fee revenue to fund our national research effort is neither sustainable nor ethical.”

Universities Australia’s Jackson responded to the government announcement saying that having a modern, fit for purpose framework and evidence-based priorities is “important in the face of a changing global and domestic environment”.

“In preparing for the future we must continue to invest in our researchers and their ideas – and create the settings and foster an environment for them thrive. This is what will keep Australia in the global effort to advance knowledge and tackle the world’s big challenges,” she added.

“It’s university-driven research that will continue to drive our prosperity, productivity, and wellbeing and universities, as they always have been, are up to the challenge.”

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