International education needs to be divorced from domestic higher education funding so that it can spread its own wings, according to the chair of the higher education review, Professor Denise Bradley.
Bradley’s report argues that international education can play a crucial role in helping to develop Australia’s knowledge economy. But this potential is being undermined because international education is used to cross-subsidise domestic higher education.
It’s a vicious cycle which can only be broken if domestic funding questions are resolved independently from the international education industry, Bradley argues. “If higher education institutions receive appropriate public funding this would enable them to focus on developing a sustainable base for their international activities,” the report says.
“It would ensure that more of the income generated from international students could be used to improve services for those students, in addition to other quite appropriate purposes – such as increasing the institution’s research effort.”
Bradley’s recommendations include a complete restructure of international education bureaucracy, far more generous support for international higher degree research (HDR) students, and the integration of language training into international programs. She calls for Australian Education International (AEI) to be abolished, arguing that a combined promotional and regulatory body is untenable.
“The panel has concluded that the future of the industry would be best served by a marketing and development model that establishes a separate organisation to promote the sector’s international student activity. The body would have considerable independence and a whole-of-government approach,” the report says
The new promotional body would adopt “a holistic approach that improves the sustainability of the industry and strengthens Australia’s capacity to prosper in the global competition for talent and knowledge,” the report says. AEI’s regulatory functions would be absorbed into a new independent regulatory body covering the entire national tertiary sector.
The report also charts the development of Australia’s international education industry as it moved from “educational aid” – characterised by the Colombo Plan – to an “educational trade” phase characterised by massive growth. But while international students now represent a far greater proportion of higher education enrolments in Australia than in any other country, they’re “skewed in disciplines, levels of study and nations of origin,” the report says.
Bradley says HDR students are a crucial potential source of the high-level skills the Australian workforce needs, both in academia and industry. “It is critical that the student base is broadened, and in particular that more international students are attracted to HDR programs.” But in 2007, only 3.1 per cent of Australia’s international students were research PhD candidates, the report says.
By comparison, PhD students make up almost a third of the US’s international students, and over 40 per cent of advanced research students in the UK and Switzerland are foreigners. Australia will only achieve similar levels if it beefs up financial support for international research postgraduates, the report argues. It recommends 1000 new tuition scholarships for international HDR students every year and vastly improved support for the living expenses of students and their families.
Pro vice-chancellor of UNSW International, Jennie Lang, praised the focus on HDR – and said it needed to play to Australia’s strengths. “We need to use the HDR scholarships effectively to raise the profile of the myriad strengths in the Australian higher education sector – science, engineering, medicine, technology, business and other areas like law, built environment and the humanities,” said Lang, who chairs Universities Australia’s international committee.
“I think they’ve got it right that we’re moving into a third phase of international education. There’s a lot to build on from the past. In phase one Australia really stood out with the Colombo plan and the various subsidised student programs. In this third phase we’d like to see a significant recommitment to the region, and to strategic engagement.”
Lang endorsed the call for AEI to be restructured – as did Swinburne University vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young, who said the international chapter was a highlight of the Bradley report. “One of the very positive things is the clear recognition of the importance of international education to Australia. There’s some very important recommendations about how Australia promotes itself as an international education destination, and about ensuring sustainability.”
The Australian Council for Private Education and Training also supported a restructure. “The important thing is that we have a coordinated approach across sectors and institutions,” said executive officer Andrew Smith.
“We compete in a global marketplace and Australia has a strong reputation overseas. That can only be strengthened by a coordinated approach, where standards are maintained at a high level, and we promote the high standard to the world.”
Professor Paul Rodan of CQUniversity applauded Bradley’s call for universities to integrate ongoing language, communication and employment skills training into courses for international students. “What she says here is absolutely fundamental,” he said.
“Some elite universities may not need to do so. But for the rest, seeking to build reputation, being able to value-add and make students more employable by incorporating these skills into the curriculum – this is where the action’s going to be in the next few years.”
Bradley was also “spot on” in challenging universities to internationalise their curricula, Rodan said. “Domestic students, even though they’re getting an Australian degree, need to be across the realities of working in a multi-cultural country and world – just as much as international students need to have adequate language and cross-cultural skills.”
Bradley’s international chapter all but overlooked international student safety issues (see pages 4-5) But Rodan said this was natural, given the report’s audience. “Bradley is making a report to the Commonwealth Government. Unless the Commonwealth wants to put in-depth safety provisions into the Educational Services for Overseas Students Act, then these matters will be best progressed at state and local level.”
Go to deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Review/
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