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Keep Education Exports Out Of The Immigration Debate

Monday, February 18 2019

ACPET National Monday Update – 18 Feb 2019
Troy Williams, ACPET Chief Executive Officer

A prominent columnist in The Australian newspaper wrote last week that it is “international students more than any other group that has kept the net overseas migration numbers at unacceptable high levels” and that government should “tighten the visa  arrangements that apply to international students to restrict their number”.  Mixing the immigration debate with the continued success story of Australian education exports is an unwelcome development.

Data released late last year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed that in 2017-18, education-related travel exports were $32.4 billion, an increase of 15.5% on the year before.  The largest market was China ($11.0 billion, up 22.0%), then India ($3.8 billion, up 20.0%) and Nepal ($1.6 billion, up 54.9%).  These are not uncontested markets and Australian providers in the independent and public education sectors face competition from providers in markets such as the United States.  The US Institute of International Education data shows that in America new enrolments from China and India make up over 50% of the cohort, with Nepal being amongst the strongest growing markets.

It’s not unexpected that it’s the higher education sector that is often the focus when reviewing Australia’s education exports; however, the importance of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector should not be overlooked.  In the past fortnight the Australian Government’s Department of Education and Training released the November 2018 student data which shows VET sector international student enrolments increased by 10.3%.

These numbers are impressive, but commentators rarely reflect on the contribution that Australian education exports play in job creation.  The sector is the nation’s third largest export industry that supports jobs not only in education, but across a wide range of primary service industries.  Last December, the Department of Education and Training estimated that the full-time equivalent jobs supported by international education in Australia  reached 241,783 in 2017, a figure that grew by 3.0% over the year. 

The opinion piece in The Australian noted the views of some that the increase in international student numbers are contributing to Sydney’s and Melbourne’s growing pains.  If this is the case the focus of government should be on building the infrastructure to support education exports.  In the same way that mining exports require infrastructure such as new rail lines and ports, government should work with stakeholders such as the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) to ensure that the housing and transport infrastructure is available to support the growing number of international students.

It’s right to suggest a review of student visa requirements to ensure that arrangements support eligible students accessing quality courses; however, a change to visa requirements simply to pander to those calling for lower immigration numbers risks damaging an Australian export success story, and with it the job security for  nearly a quarter-million people.

ACPET Chief Executive
Twitter: @TroyWilliamsAus


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