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Australia releases new international students’ strategy

Australia’s Minister for Tertiary Education, Senator Chris Evans, introduced a new international students’ strategy on 29 October 2010 with the aim of improving services to this population, as well as enhancing the overall quality of the international education offer in Australia.  Despite having been an important destination of choice for international students in recent years, a spate of assaults on foreign students and the tightening of migration eligibility requirements have been tarnishing Australia’s image of late. Considering the critical role international education is meant to play in Australia’s economic growth objectives (see ACA Newsletter- Education Europe September 2010) the government has sought to respond to ensure a high-quality experience for international students. The strategy has been jointly developed by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). International educators and students have been also consulted in this process.

The new strategy is built around four key considerations:  student wellbeing, quality of education, consumer protection and better information. Three main objectives have also been articulated: ensuring that students are accurately informed about study options and the reality of life in Australia; providing a framework that allows for positive academic and personal experiences in Australia; and giving students real opportunities to gain skills that prepare them for successful future endeavours. The strategy is meant to be reviewed on an ongoing basis during the next five years in order to measure its appropriateness and its effectiveness in achieving the stated aims. The strategy is based on the Baird Review, a report published in March 2010 that examined the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000 and provided the Australian government with a set of recommendations for potential changes in Australia that could ensure “world-class quality international education”.

In another recent development, Minister Evans released a consultation paper on 7 December 2010, documenting the first phase of the Australian government’s response to the Baird Review. Some changes recommended by the Review were endorsed and are being implemented, including: the reinforcement of education providers’ registration requirements; measures to better manage risk in international education; introduction of financial penalties for a wider scope of non-compliant behaviour; and enhancement of the complaints and appeals service administered by an independent body.  Whether all of this improves international student recruitment—and experiences—in Australia remains to be seen.

Council of Australian Government (COAG) Minister’s Media Centre