The first National Strategy for International Education in Australia is a step in the right direction for a brighter future for higher education providers engaged in serving international students, according to the Council of Private Higher Education (COPHE).
COPHE CEO Adrian McComb, who was at the launch of the strategy in Launceston on Saturday 30 April, said a co-ordinated, national approach was long overdue. He said he looked forward to seeing the specific actions that should result from the positive direction set in the strategy. Areas such as new visa arrangements, moves to improve links with industry and to develop alumni networks, were particularly promising. Such action should help ensure Australia retained its competitiveness in this increasingly challenging and competitive global market.
“We have long sought policy that assists all students to think as global citizens so the benefits of strategy support for international students potentially could extend to all students,” he said. “We support all actions that encourage community engagement and the recognition of the economic and social contributions of international students. For a start, they raise the language and cultural understanding of domestic students, preparing them for life in a more global world.”
In its submission, COPHE had asked for the strategy to improve the communication and effectiveness of regulators, especially TEQSA and ASQA and application of the Australian Qualifications Framework to support the sector, and underpin confidence in its quality and integrity.
“Senator Richard Colbeck is to be congratulated for taking this step towards providing a clear direction and consistency to the sector – hopefully delivering more equity, choice and diversity for students,” Mr McComb said. “We particularly hope this will be the end of frequent changes to skilled migration policy and the end of sudden increases in visa application charges which make our costs higher than our competitors.” He said the formation of the Co-ordinating Council would help to ensure this was the case.
“In our submission to the strategy, we appealed for practical steps to release the potential of private providers. There are many smaller providers delivering world standard courses in specialised niche fields, including performing and creative arts and specialised fields of management, who have the potential for much greater international engagement. This would benefit students and enhance Australia’s reputation. We hope the Council will act on to make this happen,” he said.
Mr McComb said it would be particularly useful if a major barrier to the growth of private colleges catering for international students could be removed. The ability of some providers to engage with peer institutions offshore is restricted by the definition in Australia of the title university, which requires discovery research across at least 3 fields. COPHE continues to argue, in line with international practice, for institutions delivering full degree programs informed by other categories of scholarship1 , but not delivering PhD level research, to still be able to be called a university. This could be done through introducing a category such as University College, which is now irrelevant in its current Australian usage where it is restricted to a proto, research intensive university.
We also continue to appeal for steps to be taken to enable all staff and students to be able to get involved in Government-funded global engagement programs such the New Colombo Plan, Endeavour awards and OS-HELP loans. Currently these are only open to those at universities. The latest TEQSA Statistics Report shows that nearly 10% (9.3%) of students are enrolled outside the 37 public universities.
“We are also optimistic that this more co-ordinated approach will improve the employability of international recent graduates, for the benefit of all,” Mr McComb said.
1 – As defined in: Ernest L Boyer (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered Jossey-Bass, San Francisco