Press Conference – Western Sydney University – Monday 22 August 2022


SUBJECTS: Australia-India Education Council.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Welcome to Australia Minister Pradhan. Welcome in particular to my hometown of Sydney and Western Sydney. We have had a wonderful discussion today convening the sixth meeting of the Australia-India Education Council here at Western Sydney University, and Barney Glover the Vice-Chancellor of the university joins us here at this press conference today. Barney, thank you for your hospitality, thank you for welcoming us here to this extraordinary campus, one that we’ll see replicated in short measure in the heart of Bankstown in only a couple of months’ time.

Minister, we spoke via the internet only last month in preparation for this visit about our excitement at getting to meet in person. We’re both new Ministers for Education with big agendas, both Ministers who understand the power of education to change lives. I told you this morning in our discussions that if you got into a time machine and went back 50 years, you would not recognise the Australia that you found. Fifty years ago, Australia was a very different country to the one that we live in today. Fifty years ago, Australia was not the multicultural country that we have today. Most Australians were of an Anglo–Celtic background. Today, one in two Australians have a parent who was born overseas. One of the fastest growing groups of Australians is Australians of Indian heritage. The number of Australians who practise the Hindu faith has increased by 50 per cent just in the last five years alone.

And if you were to get in that time machine and go back 50 years you would not recognise the education system that existed in Australia back then compared to today. Fifty years ago, only 2 per cent of Australians had a university degree – 2 per cent. Something like only 18 per cent of Australians, 50 years ago, completed high school. Today, that percentage is more like 90 per cent of Australians who finish high school, and more than 43 per cent of young Australians have a university degree. So, we understand, through everything that’s happened in Australia in the last 50 years, the power of education to transform people’s lives. That is what makes what Prime Minister Modi and yourself are doing in India so exciting. The work that you are doing through the National Education Plan, with ambitious targets like ensuring that as many as 50 per cent of young Indians by 2035 are enrolled in vocational education and higher education, is nation‑changing stuff. It will change the nation. And for our Australian friends who join us at this press conference, to understand the magnitude of what Prime Minister Modi and Minister Pradhan are talking about here, we’re talking about the education of something like 500 million young Indian students. It’s enormous.

Today, in the Council, we agreed to finalise the mutual recognition of education qualifications work that the Council has been doing by the end of this year, and I’m very hopeful to be able to visit Minister Pradhan in India by the end of the year for the conclusion of that work. We also are happy to announce today the establishment of the Australia Research Collaboration Hub, half a million dollars investment to assist in the collaboration between Australian and Indian researchers online. We’re also announcing today the Australia-India Research Student Fellowships Program, worth about $600,000, that will provide fellowships for 70 students and young researchers from India as well as from Australia, worth up to $10,000 each, to assist in the work that they do and in working in India and Australia. And then finally, the establishment of the Research Collaboration Grants Seed Funding for Australian researchers to collaborate with Indian counterparts.

We also agreed to meet again this time next year in India. COVID has done many things. It’s kept us apart for too long. It’s been now three years since this Council has met and we’re keen to build on the momentum that we created in our conversation today by ensuring that we meet again this time next year, with an even more ambitious agenda. Minister, you made the point to myself today and to Australian universities that you have an ambitious agenda for India. You were keen for Australia and Australian universities to be part of that process, and I think I can confidently speak for the Australian universities and representatives of other parts of our higher education system that were here in this meeting today that we are keen to work with you on helping you implement that bold agenda.

Would you like to make a few remarks?

SHRI DHARMENDRA PRADHAN, INDIAN MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you, my dear friend, honourable Minister for Education Jason Clare. I am delighted to be a guest in your own city. It’s a privilege for me and my government. Friends, when both of our Prime Ministers met last May in Tokyo on the occasion of the Quad, on the sidelines of that they engaged in the bilateral discussion, from that point, from the Tokyo, my Prime Minister said to me to visit Australia as soon as possible. With the Australian Prime Minister’s welcoming approach. I’m here with the vision of Prime Minister Modi. Thank you, Mr Minister, for your appreciation of our National Education Policy envisioned by Prime Minister Modi in 2020.

This is a collaboration between two big economy of the world, two major powers of the world. You are a young nation. India is an old civilisation. If we – and today the 21st century entered we’re a growing small village, small community, we have a shared challenge, shared common aspiration and a shared responsibility also. And today in the sixth Australia-India Education Council, we agreed on certain things. One of the major agreements is education is the pathway for the 21st century. As my friend Minister Clare mentioned and prioritised the area of our agreement. I don’t want to repeat that – to taking part in this discussion, taking part in our discussion. As we discussed today, we want to take the best practice of higher education of Australia to India. In our National Education Policy we have deregulated to open five universities in our country in the physical form – possibly in online form also. We have discussed today, also our bilateral discussion and council meeting.

As you said, 50 years ago, you gave the statistics of Australian origin people, how they were in schools, how they were in universities. If I compare that in India today, almost 100 per cent improvement of there in the school level, at the entry level, and out of that, 80 per cent of people are coming out of the high schools and the secondary schools. But our higher education enrolment issue is still a challenge. Yours is around 50 per cent. Ours is around 27 per cent. The first vision and [indistinct] to enhance the [indisitinct] enrolment issue on higher education up to 50 per cent by 2025. That relies on mutual cooperation. A lot of Indian origin students are coming to Australia for higher education and [indistinct]; India is thankful to you for that. But how this knowledge system can be enhanced to India which would be beneficial to both our countries? We have already discussed that on this issue, so I’ve invited, through you, to enter university community of Australia to come to India in the best possible form to open campus, to open course, do a degree, a training of degree, and I’m happy by end of this year will be agreeing [indistinct] cognisant of certificates, cognisant of courses with both our countries by the end of this year. And I’m inviting you to India on your maiden visit as Education Minister, and with your visit we will take our investment to a higher level. And I’m inviting my colleague team from Australia to come to India for the next year’s AIEC meeting, and in future, more investment will be there between Australia and India and the knowledge sector, and we strongly believe knowledge is the transformative catalyst of the 21st century, and both of the countries will jointly take responsibility of individualised role, and today we already discussed this important point. Thank you.

CLARE: Thank you, Minister. Happy to take a number of questions. Yes.

JOURNALIST: What are the Australian and Indian research projects that the two countries wish to prioritise getting off the ground immediately, and why?

CLARE: Well, there’s already a lot of work going on in the areas of agriculture and water. There’s a water centre here at Western Sydney University. We had the opportunity to meet with some PhD students from India that are working, collaborating, with Australian students right now. But the opportunities are bigger than that. We talked this morning about climate change. We talked about COVID. We talked about medicine.

PRADHAN: Energy.

CLARE: Energy is a classic example. Minister, I hope you wouldn’t mind me sharing you described the education portfolio as the “mother portfolio” or the “mother department”. The work that we do here in training young people to have the skills that are needed for all of the jobs and the businesses that are going to be created in the decades ahead is critical. Here in Australia, we’ve got a Jobs and Skills Summit focused deliberately on meeting that challenge. India has a challenge of another magnitude beyond that. Just the sheer scale of training half a billion young Indian students is enormous.

Now, Australia invites and educates a relatively small number of Indian students to study here in Australia every year. There’s something like 59,000 Indian students studying here right now. There’s been a bit of a backlog with visas in the wake of COVID, and I can report some good news there as I’m trying to speed up that visa processing task; twice as many Indian students have had their visas processed in July as in June, but there’s still more work to do there.

But to the Minister’s point, there is only so much that Australia can do training Indian students here in Australia. There’s a lot more that we can potentially do to help in the implementation of India’s National Education Plan in India itself, either universities setting up campuses in India, like Wollongong is intending to do, or also the opportunity to be able to provide courses online to Indian students.

Minister, would you like to talk to that?

PRADHAN: I can add one point. Through the morning I made some young researcher friends from India, who work here in Western Sydney University campus, pursuing their future of the research literature on the technology front, and I’m happy to share not only technology digital platforms [indistinct] agricultural. They’re also collaborating on [indistinct] medicine, [indistinct] traditional medicine. In India, for the traditional medicine we practise [indistinct] and here in Australia, these universities are pursuing collaborative research in that area also. So, this is the future of our investment. This is the future of the world, I can say, and this is a very – it is a priority area for both of us and we are on the right track.

JOURNALIST: Minister Pradhan, what impact is this visa backlog having on students in India that are hoping to come to Australia for international study? And Minister Clare, what is the Australian Government doing to address this backlog?

PRADHAN: I think when we – last month when we discussed on telephone, when I congratulated Minister Clare for his appointment to the ministry, [indistinct] raised this issue of backlog, he assured me Australian Government is going to speed up the process because of – due to COVID a lot of disruption out there. Australian Government is happy – I believe I trust my friend. He assured me when our Prime Minister – both our Prime Minister discuss also this issue, and he personally assured me he will look into the backlog issue. Yes, backlog issue is a concern for India because a lot of student have already budgeted their fees and entrance charges and are waiting for coming to Australia for their career, so I’m confident my friend will look into that answer.

CLARE: It’s a serious issue. Indian students have paid up. They’re keen to come here. We want them here in Australia being part of our higher education system. It’s why the Department of Home Affairs has put an extra 140 staff on to help speed up the visa processing task. And we’re already seeing results. We’re seeing double the number of Indian students having their visas processed and approved in July as happened in June, but there’s still a backlog. There’s still more work that we have to do, and I’m working closely with Clare O’Neil, the Minister for Home Affairs on that task. The Secretary of my department, the Department of Education, is also working closely with the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs as well. This is a subset of a bigger challenge, the backlog in visas application was something like one million when we came to office and in part because of COVID, but it’s a big task and one we’re working on.

JOURNALIST: A quarter of permanent skilled migrants in Australia are working in jobs that are beneath their skill level. What is the government doing to better recognise qualifications?

CLARE: So, the agreement we’re working on is a little different to that. That’s about the mutual recognition of education qualifications generally. The question you’ve raised is a significant one. We want people with qualifications to be able to use them in Australia. We have a skills shortage at the moment. Australian businesses are screaming out for skilled workers. Brendan O’Connor, my colleague, the Minister for Skills, is looking at issues like this. It will be one of the things I expect would be discussed at the summit, the Jobs and Skills Summit, next week.

But in our area, working on mutual recognition of education qualifications, that will help to underpin the growth in students studying here in Australia as well as Australian students being able to study in India. I think we made some good progress on that front, Minister, hoping to sign that off by Christmas. After our press conference here, we’re off to have lunch in Harris Park. Then heading off to visit a local primary school, then off to TAFE, and then we’ll conclude tonight by visiting my old university, the University of New South Wales, where we’ll get to talk to a number of Vice‑Chancellors and leaders of Australian universities about the opportunities for Australian universities to help India in meeting the ambitious targets it has to educate young Indian students, something in the order of half a billion by 2035. So, a big day ahead and very much looking forward to spending it with you, Minister.

Thanks very much, everybody.


Media Contact: Korena Flanagan – 02 9790 2466