Question Time: International Students

Dr HAINES (Indi) (14:48): My question is to the Minister for Education. Regional universities, including those in Indi, rely on international student revenue to educate the nurses, teachers and doctors of the future. Universities Australia and the Regional Universities Network are warning that any reduction in revenue would result in job cuts and the closure of regional campuses. Why is this government moving ahead with changes that undermine the ability of regional universities to educate the workforce that we need?

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (14:48): I thank the member for Indi for her question, her passion and her interest in this area. I know she’s a champion of regional universities, like she’s a passionate supporter of our regions generally. Let me tell you that this is about supporting our regional universities and supporting international education. It’s about making sure that we protect the integrity of the system that we have and making sure that we provide certainty and stability for the future.

International education, I’m sure you and all members of the House would agree, is an important national asset. This is the biggest export that we don’t dig out of the ground. It makes us money in the cities and in the regions. It creates jobs—and you touched on that in your question. But it also does something else. It makes us friends. When people come to Australia and study and they fall in love with this great country, then they take that love and affection back home with them. So it’s important.

As I said, we’ve got to protect the integrity of this system and its social licence to operate. Students have come back since the pandemic, but so have the shonks—the people that seek to undermine the integrity of the system. I know that you understand that. We had a yack about this yesterday. I know that you support the integrity measures that are part of this bill. What the bill also does is set levels or limits for individual universities, and my department is working with organisations like UA and RUN and universities right across the board on what those levels should be. I’m also consulting directly with universities to make sure that we get this right. It’s about making sure that we provide universities with certainty and stability for managed growth over time.

I should point you to some of the positive comments that have been made, for example, by La Trobe University. I know that they work in your part of Australia, Dr Haines, and they have welcomed the certainty that this framework could provide. I should point to the comments that the Chancellor of the University of Queensland has made in support of this legislation, Peter Varghese, a man who has the respect I think of all members of this House. In addition to that, the Australian Technology Network of Universities, which represents Deakin, RMIT, Newcastle University, Curtin, UTS and the University of South Australia, indicated its support. I want to make sure I get this right. I know that you’ve identified concerns with the bill. So have other members of the crossbench. I’m keen to work with you and I’m keen to work with senators on this bill to make sure that we get it right and make sure, for our universities and our other tertiary education providers who educate not just Australians but people from overseas, that we set this important industry up for the future.