With the big day fast approaching, there’s no escaping the sound and fury of election season. Jordan Thompson looks at the policy promises from two main contenders – Labor and the Coalition – that are likely to affect international students.
The Asian Century
The Labor Party and the Coalition both agree that Australia and the world is at the dawn of the ‘Asian Century’. As such, both parties are putting forward agendas to encourage Asian engagement through attracting international students from the region.
Labor believes that in order to seize the opportunities of the Asian Century, Australia must create the ‘Education Century’. First on their agenda to achieve this is an increase in the country’s Asian literacy.
Minister for Education Bill Shorten said in an address last month: “The bottom line is that we want to encourage schools to make Asian languages a top priority”. This focus on communication is hoped to improve issues such as fair assessment of international students in a teaching environment, and to strengthen cultural ties.
The second priority on the Labor Party’s agenda is attracting international students through reform of the tertiary education system. Minister Shorten proposed that Australian tertiary education should aspire to be “the ‘Oxbridge’ of the Asia Pacific, attracting the best and brightest scholars of the region”.
The New Colombo Plan which the Coalition is proposing will be a two-way system where the most promising Australian students are exchanged with their counterparts from the Asian region.
The Coalition supports a similar agenda to that of Labor in this respect, advocating improved Asian literacy and claiming that if elected they will work to boost the education sector.
Their proposed policy for improving the international education sector is the New Colombo Plan – a framework to ‘grow higher education as an export industry and to support international students studying in Australia’.
During the 1950s the Colombo plan was responsible for the sponsorship of thousands of Asian Students studying in Australian tertiary institutions. The New Colombo Plan which the Coalition is proposing will be a two-way system where the most promising Australian students are exchanged with their counterparts from the Asian region.
New promises, same story?
Both parties propose improvement of the tertiary education system, as well as attracting more international students. However, similar promises have been made in the past. It is dubious as to whether the ‘Asian Century’ will truly bring about the reforms that Australia’s tertiary institutions have been waiting for.
When Labor came to government in 2007 they proposed similar plans to expand and diversify higher education. Despite acknowledging the sector’s need for significant funding, this funding failed to materialise. In fact, the budget cut of $2.3 billion announced just four months ago brought the sum of overall cuts since 2007 to more than $4 billion.
Similarly when the Coalition was last in government they proved quite detrimental to higher education. Cuts to operating grants were imposed, HECS fees increased significantly and Voluntary Student Unionism was introduced – a change which affected the viability of student organisations, greatly damaging student support.
Neither party has a clear history in matters of education. But international students can perhaps hope that this forecasted “Asian Century” imposes some pressure upon the coming government to fulfil their promises and provide more opportunities within an improved education system.