Speech to the Australian International Education Conference

Hello everyone.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Conference is taking place today, and I pay my respects to elders, past, present, and emerging.

In doing so I commit the government, which I am proud to be a part of, to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person.

I know this is the first time you’ve been all together in a couple of years.

Covid has stopped us from doing a lot of things.

It stopped us seeing family and friends.

It stopped a lot of us going into the office.

And when the borders snapped shut – it stopped international students coming to Australia.

COVID knee-capped international education.

A $40 billion industry was cut in half.

But I don’t have to tell you that. You felt it.

Students being told to go home or being left to rely on the kindness of charity didn’t help either.

We have a big task ahead of us to rebuild.

The work to turn this around has already started.

As you know when we came to government there was a massive backlog of visas.

In May, more than 130,000 students were waiting overseas for their visa to be processed.

We have put more than 180 staff on to help process visas.

And the number of students waiting overseas for visas is now down to just over 40,000.

In other words, we have cut the waiting list by two-thirds.

We’re breaking the back of the backlog.

But not everything is fixed or back to where it was.

I know there are still lots of issues and things we need to do to help rebuild.

And boosting post-study work rights is part of that.

I said in my first speech as Minister for Education that there was more we should do to get more of the students we teach and train to stay after their studies end and help us fill some of the skills gaps in our economy.

I pushed for it.

And at the Jobs and Skills Summit last month, we committed as a Government to do this.

I want to thank Phil Honeywood for his help and advice here.

He’s part of a working group of experts that we have set up to make sure we get this right, and they’ll report to me and the Minister for Home Affairs at the end of the month.

Another big issue I know a lot of people are concerned about is the working hour cap that was removed during the pandemic.

At the Jobs and Skills Summit, the Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, announced this would be extended until June next year.

I’m keen to work with you on what the right number of hours should be when the cap comes back in.

Another part of getting students back to Australia is our relationships with other countries.

There are massive opportunities here.

Look at India.

When the Indian Education Minister visited Australia recently he talked about India’s National Education Plan.

There are something like half a billion Indians under the age of twenty three.

Their target is to have 50 per cent of young Indians enrolled in vocational and higher education by 2035.

That’s nation changing stuff.

And he wants our help to deliver it.

It’s a real opportunity some of you are already looking at.

The University of Wollongong is setting up in GIFT city in Gujarat.

I’m hoping to head to India in the new year to sign the Mutual Recognition Agreement on recognition of qualifications.

If we are serious about diversification, we have to diversify what we offer.

Online and offshore. Degrees going to students, not the other way around.

I sincerely believe our future will be shaped more by what we in education, than almost anything else. 

And that includes what we do here – in international education. 

I am very conscious what an incredible national asset this is. 

That you employ more people than mining or agriculture. 

That you’re the biggest export we don’t dig or drill out the ground.

And that this brings with it more than just dollars.

If you love studying here and living here, you take that affection back home with you.

And in the world we live in, that’s invaluable.

Thank you for everything you do taking Australia to the world.

Have a great conference.