Universities in Victoria risk missing out on international students next year after the state’s International Education Advisory Council was allowed to disband in September and a five-year international education strategy expired in June, without a replacement for either.
A member of the council, who asked not to be named, said it would be “hugely challenging” to get international students back to Victoria in 2021 without the council’s co-ordinating role.
The revelation comes as South Australia and the Northern Territory prepare to fly small numbers of overseas students to Australia as a “proof of life” that universities are open to overseas business.
International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood, who was also a council member, said compared with other states Victoria had no mechanisms available to ensure a substantial return to normal business.
“Ironically the state that depends on international education more than any other is the least prepared for the return of international students,” he said.
“Victoria’s International Education Sector Strategy expired on June 30. There’s been no further budget allocation for that or the official advisory council.
“Universities and schools are perplexed. Fundamental questions remain why the responsible minister, Martin Pakula, is not giving the industry priority compared to other state counterparts.”
Mr Pakula is the Minister for Trade, which in Victoria has oversight of strategy for international education. The sector earned $12 billion in export income for Victoria in 2019.
A member of the International Education Advisory Council who was present at the final meeting on September 24 said the event had a bizarre quality.
Towards the end of the meeting the chairman, former Deakin University vice-chancellor Jane den Hollander, told members there was no guidance on continuing its work and they would “have to wait” on a decision from the minister.
Separately, a five-year strategy for boosting international students in Victoria expired in June and according to Mr Honeywood no work has been done on a replacement strategy.
“Every state has an international student strategy. It sets out the policy framework, student services, numbers that can be supported and so on,” Mr Honeywood said.
“It sets the agenda for international high school students as well as university students etc and works with unis on things like welfare.
“We should be enrolling now. We need to be showing overseas students that Australia is keen to restart and we can support them once they are here.”
In 2019 there were more than 114,000 international students in Victoria, with Monash University alone taking nearly 30,000.
A representative of Monash told The Australian Financial Review, the university has been in discussions with peak bodies and state and federal governments about ways to enable international students to return to Australia.
She said these included Universities Australia and the Group of Eight which, “advocate on behalf of all universities to ensure the concerns and needs of the tertiary sector are understood.”
“We are confident the views of the tertiary sector are being strongly conveyed to the State and Federal Governments.
“We are ready to accommodate the return of our international students back to Australia in a safe and controlled way, including any quarantine measures that may be required, in line with the Australian Government’s road map to a COVID safe Australia.”
A spokeswoman for Victorian trade minister Pakula said that the standard appointment of current Victorian International Education Advisory Council members concludes in November, with a new committee “expected to be in place by the end of the year to support and advise on economic recovery planning”.
“The International Education Strategy remains the key policy document for this sector and work has been undertaken in consultation with industry on a recovery strategy.”
“We are continuing to work with the Commonwealth on a detailed proposal for the safe return of international students.”