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Event Recap: Education Forum - Strengthening Victoria's Largest Export

21 August 2015

Melbourne

On 21 August, ACBC Victoria hosted an Education Forum focusing on how to strengthen Victoria’s largest export. In the Grand Ballroom of The Hotel Windsor, 100 guests were treated to a fascinating panel discussion and an extremely informative keynote address from The Hon Steve Herbert, Minister for International Education and Training and Skills.

The day’s proceedings commenced with a welcome from the Vice President of ACBC Victoria, The Hon Ken Smith, who greeted guests and began by drawing attention to the value that international education holds for the State of Victoria, bringing in over $4 billion to the economy. A panel discussion followed, chaired by Professor On Kit Tam, Professor of Finance at RMIT and Chair of the Education Sub-committee for the Australia China Business Council Victoria. In his opening remarks, he stressed that although the international education sector has enjoyed success in past years, Victoria is currently facing a great deal of competition from universities in other English speaking countries. His suggestion to maintain and improve upon the State’s current position was a comprehensive international education strategy from the government, one which would allow us to build meaningful education ties with Asia and explore these links to their fullest potential.

Professor Gabriele Suder, Director of International Relations and Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne drew upon her research background in the internationalisation of institutions to stress the international education sector’s impact on economic and social sustainability. She additionally emphasised an interesting point that as China transitions from Producer to ‘Value adder’, Victorian universities can adapt to this and cater to the country’s need for increased researcher mobility.

Norman Gray AM, CEO of the Boxhill Institute brought a private sector perspective to the discussion highlighting some of the current barriers that exist for international students looking to Victoria. These included the cost of accommodation relative to other English speaking countries and the complex visa system. Norman moved on to advocate for a type of industrial policy regarding international education, thereby extending the focus from simply education policy.

Rebecca Hall, Director of International Education at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources at the Victorian Government highlighted the need to have a more nuanced understanding of what international students are looking for, while also pointing to the importance of improving prospects for employability. She additionally underscored how the state government is looking to lead with student experience as a way to sell Victorian international education.

Finally, Rowen Lewis, Deputy Principal and Director of Projects at Caulfield Grammar School spoke from the perspective of secondary schools, emphasising the desire of Chinese parents to provide their child with a good quality, western education that will lead to a university degree. He continued by saying that in his experience, Chinese parents are drawn to the diversity in the CGS curriculum, its strong co-curriculars and strong pastoral care program. He further pointed to the need to ensure that international students can integrate and engage in an immersive experience, also stressing the importance of quality control.

The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session. One of the key things discussed was the significance of an overarching, national, industrial strength strategy, including:

  • Collaboration with all levels of Australian government
  • The development of a sales strategy
  • A strategy encouraging openness and flexibility, allowing our institutions to adapt to changes in the international market
  • A strategy that is long term

Following lunch was a keynote address from the Minister. He began by highlighting the importance of international education to Victoria generally, being our largest service export for the past decade and supporting in excess of 30 000 Victorian jobs. He then expressed that any strategy should include a number of key elements, including:

  • Quality, innovation and outstanding student support
  • Long term market development
  • Ensuring the sustainability of individual subsections including English language, VET, undergraduate and postgraduate, etc.
  • Maximising collaboration between businesses, institutions and government

The Minister went on to speak about China more specifically, pointing to its enormous potential in terms of growth in the Victorian international education sector. He emphasised our ability to cater to the ‘go younger’ trend in China, which is seeing Chinese parents sending their children overseas at increasingly younger ages. He additionally pointed to the importance of targeting young international students deciding where they want to go to university.

The day finished with a vote of thanks from Julia Zhang, Director, Stott’s Colleges and Melbourne Language School. We greatly appreciate and acknowledge their sponsorship of the event.