Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has revealed that he intends to return Australia’s international education sector to its former peak as a $19 billion per year industry, despite increasing competition from other nations.
Speaking candidly in an interview with Migration Solutions last week, Minister Pyne stated that he has an ‘open-arms’ approach to educating more international students in Australia.
“I’m instinctively a Big Australia person,” he said.
“I believe that migration has made Australia the country it is today, the fact that we are a stable, multicultural democracy, and that the vast majority of migrants that come to Australia come here because they see a better opportunity for themselves and their families to have a better life.”
The Education Minister says the implementation of poor student visa policy under the previous government, combined with the emergence of several countries’ higher education systems in the Asia-Pacific region compounded to cause the $4 billion decline in Australia’s international student market.
“One of the key things that damaged our international market was [Labor] using a sledgehammer to break a walnut over international student visas,” he said.
“I have a different view. I think the more international students that come here, the better.”
The Minister highlighted factors such as the reputation of Australian higher education providers as world-leaders, and a reduction in bureaucratic red tape and processing times of student visas as being critical to luring more international students to our shores.
It’s why he said the new government chose to collapse the Assessment Level Framework from five levels down to three, and extend Streamlined Visa Processing rights to 22 non-university education providers soon after coming into office, and around another 50 since then.
“That’s also part of what we’re trying to do – Scott Morrison and I with the Department of Immigration and the Department of Education – is to facilitate application, rather than to put barriers in place,” he said.
“Faster processing of visas, an openness to processing visas, rather than approaching it from a point of view of ‘these people are trying to do something we don’t want them to do’.”
The Minister also didn’t shy away from acknowledging another major drawcard responsible for attracting international students – their ability to remain in Australia upon completion of their studies.
“I think that if we’ve educated international students in engineering, or economics, or law or dentistry or other areas where we need more workers…why wouldn’t we want those people to remain here and be permanent residents?” he said.
“There obviously has to be a limit to the number of people we take every year in term of skilled migration, but I am open to more international students staying here as permanent residents.”
“If they meet the requirements, the criteria, I want them to be able to stay here.”
He also agreed that international students made sense as prime candidates to transition into permanent residency due to the extended period of time they had spent living in the country.
“In terms of English-language proficiency, familiarisation with our culture, these are things that international students who have spent half a decade studying in Adelaide or wherever, are going to know that much better than new migrants.”
“Therefore I would encourage as many international students as wish to apply for permanent residency, and if we can accommodate them, then I can’t see why we wouldn’t.”