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Media release: University “Diversification Index” risks alienating regional partners.

The Group of Eight (Go8) which represents Australia’s leading research-intensive universities and enrols one in three of the nation’s international students, is calling on the Government to abandon its proposal to introduce a ‘Diversification Index’ for Australia’s international education sector, and instead work cooperatively on an alternative approach.

The Go8 supports the pursuit of diversification as a strategic goal but says success will depend on the introduction of a range of measures to rebuild and reshape the international education industry and promote the quality of Australia’s offering to existing and new markets.

In its submission to the Government’s International Student Diversity at Australian Universities Discussion Paper, the Go8 said “it is critical that in the pursuit of diversity we don’t inadvertently send messages that discourage certain students or cohorts. Limiting or capping the number of international students from any one country will send an immediate signal to competitor nations and risk Australia losing its current market share.”

Go8 Chief Executive Vicki Thomson said that while the Go8 supported the goal to introduce greater diversification across Australia’s universities, the proposed ‘Diversification Index’ would create a number of risks for the sector.

“Diversification should be a medium to long term strategy, and the risk is that Indian and Chinese students interpret an index as a sign that they are not welcome in Australia. The loss of these two large student cohorts would not only impact higher education and research, but also the broader bilateral relationships with these countries and exacerbate skills and capability needs across Australian industry.

“The Government’s focus on international student diversity has been driven by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more specifically the changing geopolitical situation in the region. However, other Australian industries who rely heavily on China have not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny as higher education.  

“Our international education sector export profile simply reflects Australia’s trade relationships. The reality is that Chinese and Indian students dominate international enrolments in many countries for the simple reason of cohort size.  We can’t pursue an international education industry without students from these countries.

“In the current geopolitical and economic environment, it’s also important for strategic reasons. India is a member of the QUAD, and both countries are prominent in the Indo Pacific region.

“The success of the Government’s diversification strategy will depend on the introduction of policies that support the sector in an increasingly competitive market driven international economy and complex geopolitical environment.

“International education is highly competitive and has become more so during the pandemic. Our closed borders have impacted our attractiveness as a higher education destination and this has been to the advantage of our competitors – UK, US and Canada.

“Policy measures to build on the success of existing programs, such as the New Colombo Plan, should be introduced to attract students beyond the Asia-Pacific region, for example, Latin America. The introduction of global scholarships, combined with optimal visa settings will attract and retain the talent we need in areas of national priority.”

The Go8’s submission is available here.

Contact: Vicki Thomson, Group of Eight Chief Executive on +61 417 808 472