Australia’s world class international education, research and training sector makes a significant economic and cultural contribution to Australia nationally, to its influence in Asia and around the world and to individual communities. In particular, international students in Australia create jobs and help provide a diverse and rich education experience for Australians.

This diversity enables our education institutions to offer a wide range of internationally recognised courses and campus facilities. People coming to Australian institutions to study and Australians studying abroad promote people-to-people linkages and cross cultural experiences that benefit Australian individuals, businesses, research and industry. The initiatives of Australian education institutions offshore are helping to provide a quality education for many young people in Asia and the rest of the world.

Australia’s international education sector has been built through the efforts and innovation of a myriad of stakeholders from education institutions, peak sector groups, student bodies and all levels of government.

The sector has been through a well-documented period of change and uncertainty resulting in a decline in onshore student numbers. While this period has been difficult, it has paved the way for a new era of sustainable international education growth in Australia, boasting substantially improved quality assurance and student welfare arrangements. The Asian Century makes it essential for Australia to realise the potential that this new era offers.

There are significant choices to be made if the full benefits available to Australia are to be realised. Students value the quality of the education, the qualification, the reputation of the institution and the broader international experience, including employment and work experience opportunities. Other important drivers of student choice include cost, career options and global mobility opportunities.

After assessing the opportunities and challenges facing the sector, and consulting with major stakeholders about their own expectations, the Council considers that, with a coordinated effort across the sector and governments to meet emerging challenges, Australia will be able to play a leading role in meeting the growing global demand for education.

Australia cannot be complacent about its relatively strong performance in international education to date. There are emerging competitive pressures driven by a high cost environment and the emergence of new players that require a renewed commitment to the sector and a comprehensive policy response.

While historic rates of growth will slow as some institutions reach their carrying capacity, we estimate that the most likely growth path would see Australia hosting around 520,000 students in 2020, studying across all education sectors and contributing around $19.1 billion to the local economy. For the community, this brings direct benefits to retailers, accommodation providers and community enterprises. This will represent an additional 117,000 students over the 2012 level of 402,000 and an estimated increase of 146,000 enrolments from that year. Significant innovation and growth is also achievable in offshore and online education.

While this is considered a sustainable level of development, Australia should draw on its long, successful experience in international education to move up the value chain and to focus on providing a high quality education experience, as well as attracting more students to our Australian and offshore campuses.

The Council recognises that while the sector needs a settling-down period following times of change and uncertainty, it must continue to address a number of key issues to ensure the sustainable development of a vibrant Australian international education and training sector. The Council has identified seven key issues, developed a strategic aim for each issue and proposed a number of recommendations to address them. These key issues are coordination; quality; a positive student experience; partnerships; ensuring integrity – Australia’s student visa program; data analysis and research in international education; and competition, marketing and promotion.

To address the first and most urgent of these issues and oversight progress of a five year strategy for international education, the Council proposes the establishment of a new Ministerial Coordinating Council on International Education (MCCIE). The MCCIE would be chaired by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and comprise relevant Australian Government Ministers and representatives from business and industry, the international education sector and state and territory governments. The MCCIE would provide the leadership required for the sector to identify and best respond to new challenges. It could also consider new approaches to tackle the major long-term issues facing the sector, such as affordable accommodation and diversification.

The Council is not well placed to make many significant recommendations on the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector as it is currently undergoing significant change and institutional structures are in the process of adjustment. An initial work plan for the MCCIE would include consideration of the major long-term issues identified in this report as well as the VET sector as a matter of priority.

The recommendations contained in this report will require coordinated and sustained action from Commonwealth agencies such as the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), Austrade, AusAID; the national education regulators the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA); state and territory governments with initiatives in promotion and areas such as transport and health; along with education providers and their peak organisations.

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