For the first time since Covid began representatives from major peak bodies in the international education sector have come together to meet with the federal government to discuss the crisis in the sector.
A round table in Canberra saw organisations such as Universities Australia, International Students Education Agents Association, English Australia, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, representatives for independent schools, and state run study bodies meet with government representatives from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Department of Home Affairs and Austrade.
Robert Parsonson from ISEAA said by bringing the peak bodies together as a single voice they hope it will strengthen their position as they fight for the recovery of the sector.
“It’s easy to keep off players when they’re individuals but it’s a little bit more difficult when you actually get together and speak with a single voice to government so the idea was to get all the industry people together and that’s the first time since Covid began that all the peak bodies actually got together in the same room.
“There’s been different crisis committees run by government but often they’ve been very big groups and nothing really has come of it. This roundtable was an industry led response rather than reacting to government initiatives, of which there has been very little from the federal government.”
Parsonson said that single voice is critical in highlighting the true impact of international education on Australia’s economy, and securing the support from government to help in the recovery of the industry, similar to that which has been given to the tourism industry.
“The real emerging theme was that this is an industry that needs a single voice to government. Tourism does it very very well and education does it very badly. We need to show that it’s industry wide and that it’s not just education and not just universities, there are so many multiplier effects that come out of education.
“Tourism being one of the big ones – 40 cents in every tourist dollar was driven by the national education so when we talk about tourism we can’t disengage international education. So we’re just trying to show that all the businesses – people who do homestay and CBD businesses etc are the people who are impacted when we just shut out international education without any hope of opening in the near future.”
The sector acknowledges that there is a need to bring Australian citizens home as a priority however Parsonson rejects that it is a case of one or the other.
He said there is a willingness and ability within the sector to bring in international students within the health and safety guidelines but they need government, particularly at a federal level, to come on board.
“One of the outcomes of the discussions is that we will work with the state governments closely where we think there’s opportunity. We think New South Wales and South Australia are highly likely to have the political will to try and set this up.
“An interesting fact though that came out was from the executive chairman of SCAPE the accommodation provider that they had sent a plan to the government to bring in 150,000 students into their accommodation. Naturally those students would pay for flights and the quarantine there and they received no response from the government on that. It’s incredibly frustrating that we can’t put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
With the quarantine issue a sticking point Parsonson said they’ll continue to work with state governments to understand and provide whatever training and resources support they can to enable the return of students, as this is the only way the sector can begin its recovery.
“A real goal is to start to get the backlog into Australia because there’s so many students that are stranded [with visas] offshore, the ones that were caught out when the borders closed and the ones that have been granted visas since.
“We need to get those students in before we can enrol new students. While we have borders closed, that extension just drags it further and further out and it’s very difficult to recover until you get those students back and start recruiting new students.”
The group is set to meet again in coming weeks.