Closing Address to the English Australia Annual Conference, Hobart
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Language proficiency is the passport to societal interaction, regardless of your intended field of endeavour. From reading street signs and product labels to text books on nuclear physics, language proficiency is vital to enable a person to effectively function in a society.
And in our society, the language skills needed are of the English variety. A lesson I learned, along with my Senate colleagues Senators Sinodinos and Fierravanti-Wells. You see, all three of us were of migrant stock with no English language skills and dropped into kindergarten to learn the language ready for grade one – where ‘real’ learning started in those days.
I well recall the anxiety of not being able to communicate – not even the most basic of human needs. One learns quickly. There was no choice.
However, the 160,000 students English Australia assists each year do have a choice. They don’t have to come to Australia – be they students, tourists or people on work visas. The world is a big place with a choice of potential destinations. So it is vital that the assistance they receive in Australia is a high quality, value for money experience.
And that is exactly what you provide according to the person who I have the honour of representing, Minister Birmingham.
With that said, I better turn to what the Minister has actually asked me to say.
The ELICOS sector is unique in Australia’s education landscape. Your focus is strongly international and this gives your views significance when you advocate for continuing improvements.
We all appreciate that international education and training is our largest services export and our third largest export overall. This ‘super growth’ sector is worth around $19 billion to the economy.
It’s a major employer that has so far created 130,000 jobs—so there’s a lot at stake.
Value of ELICOS
You are playing a critical role in this success story. As the first port of call for most international students, ELICOS providers establish our reputation for high quality teaching.
Your commitment to giving students an outstanding experience at this initial time in their journey is just so important. When these students receive a high standard of English language teaching they get the foundation they need to succeed in the rest of their study –not only while they are with us, but also throughout their lives anywhere in the world.
The English language sector plays, and will continue to play, a vital role in our education leadership, connecting with higher education, vocational education and training and schools as well as providing an important bridge between education and employment in Australia.
Many tourists take the opportunity to formally improve their English language skills while holidaying here. And you are often the bridge between education and employment in Australia.
For many international students, the positive experience and the professionalism of the tuition they receive, is the main reason they decide to stay and continue their education.
And we all know that global business demands employees who are proficient in the English language.
For students who are looking to improve their job prospects, study skills, their English language test results or general communication skills, English language study in Australia is a very attractive option, indeed more than 163,000 international students enrolled in English language programs in Australia in 2014.
Many of you know about what the Government is doing to strengthen our international education and training sector and I can tell you that the Minister, Simon Birmingham, has a deep commitment to advancing your sector.
Everything we do is underpinned by the National Strategy for International Education. We launched it here in Tasmania in April along with the Australian International Education 2025 Roadmap and the Australia Global Alumni Strategy.
To pick up on your conference theme of Create, Connect, Collaborate, the development of these strategies was a significant collaboration across government agencies—including state and territory governments—working hand in glove with people like you, our international education and training sector partners.
The National Strategy is just that - national. The entire country now has a framework to strengthen and grow international education over the next decade. It’s backed with $12 million over the next four years.
It’s designed at a high level so that we all can identify a part to play in the national drive to secure, and grow, Australia’s status as a global education leader.
ELICOS plays, and will continue to play, a vital role in this leadership.
In Tasmania we have allocated $150 million to relocate and expand the University of Tasmania’s Launceston and Burnie campuses. Our $7.5 million partnership with the City of Launceston will leverage the University of Tasmania relocation by renewing the CBD.
It will become an even more attractive place to work, study, visit and live. The non-classroom aspects, if you like, of a terrific study experience for international students. Here in Tasmania, our international student numbers grew by 12 per cent in 2015 with international education contributing an estimated $169 million to the economy in 2015 and supported over 1,400 jobs.
Tasmania is an education destination that has a lot to offer students: there’s high quality education providers of course; and there’s friendly communities and a wonderful natural environment.
I believe Tasmania has a great deal of potential for growth and I know that the State Liberal Government knows the value of the local international education sector. In July, Matthew Groom, the Minister for State Growth, released a position paper for the Tasmanian International Education Strategy.
More broadly, the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments are working together to support economic growth.
We are creating a collaborative, more interconnected sector and we will work with you to capitalise on our strengths as we identify and pursue opportunities for sustainable growth offshore. I think now is the time to seriously think about growing our English language sector leadership offshore. But only if this can be done in a sustainable way that continues to enhance our reputation.
We must get the fundamentals right.
Minister Birmingham asked me to extend his thanks to English Australia for your work and support of the Government’s legislative reform process.
“Strengthening the fundamentals” is a pillar of the National strategy. Effective quality assurance and a sound regulatory environment is central to the industry’s success and reputation at home and abroad.
The changes following the passage of legislation through Parliament in December streamlined the provider registration processes, simplified reporting arrangements for education providers and improved flexibility for payment of student tuition fees.
We will continue to work closely with the sector as we revise both the ELICOS standards and the National Code for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students.
The Government knows that high quality providers are all important to the reputation of the sector and can I say on behalf of the Minister and the Government: thank you for all that you do.
We will continue to work with you on shaping the standards and practices for which you are held accountable. I acknowledge your work as teachers, education leaders, administrators, student support professionals and the myriad of other essential roles that make study and life fun for your international students.
Together we will keep Australia flying high as a top destination of choice for international students.
We will continue to strengthen our internationally recognised education systems, foster global connections and do what it takes so that our education providers are in a position to capitalise on emerging opportunities.
I hope you have enjoyed your time here in Tasmania whilst also emptying your wallets. I trust that you will also take the lead from your students to stay and enjoy the many fine things to see and do and eat here in Tasmania.
On behalf of the Government, I salute you for your efforts and wish you ongoing success in your vitally important endeavours that are genuinely life-changing for so many.