COMMITTEE for Melbourne chief executive Andrew MacLeod will call for an urgent reassessment of Australian international education policy in an address at Federation Square tonight.
Mr MacLeod will argue that the furore surrounding migrants and refugees in recent times has damaged Australia’s image as a centre for international learning.
“There are unambiguous findings in many of the market surveys of the universities that there is a negative perception of Australia being created by the way in which we are framing the refugee population and immigration debate,” Mr MacLeod said.
“We are seen as an unwelcoming country.”
Mr MacLeod noted that political expediency is often to blame for fanning the flames of public distrust.
“It’s one of the truisms of international politics that when a politician has the choice between preaching fear and intolerance on one hand, or compassion and togetherness on the other, fear and intolerance wins every time in every country in every culture,” he said.
Mr MacLeod’s address follows the recent results of a government-initiated strategic review of the Australian international education system, released last Thursday.
The review, conducted by former New South Wales MP Michael Knight, suggests several reforms for the education sector, including streamlined visa processing and a reduction in financial requirements for ‘high risk’ visa applications.
The federal government intends to implement many of the suggested changes.
Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, claimed the reforms would “help entrench Australia as a preferred destination for international students.”
Mr MacLeod praised the government’s plan for reform, which he hopes is evidence of a shift in policy.
“I think it’s a recognition that there was an unnecessary overreaction on the visa issue,” he said.
“Allowing international students to stay and work in Australia after graduation will enhance intercultural dialogue and understanding, reduce conflict, and increase collaboration between their home country and ours. International education can be a great diplomatic tool, not just an economic benefit.”
Mr MacLeod will also propose several policy ideas in his address tonight, including the formation of an official ‘Australian Alumni’ program in South East Asia.
“Many senior political and business leaders in the Asia Pacific region have received some or all of their education in Australia,” he said.
“We should maximise the diplomatic, cultural and business advantages by keeping track and fostering a lifetime cultural connection between former students and our country.
“While some universities are doing this, surely the Australian Government should do so as part of a soft diplomatic outreach.”
Mr MacLeod’s address is part of Deakin University’s Richard Searby Oration to be held at 6:30pm at BMW Edge, Federation Square.
The results of the strategic review into Australia’s international education system can be viewed at http://www.immi.gov.au/students/knight/.