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Opening statement of the Go8 Chief Executive to the Trade Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on their inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors

April 18, 2023

Opening statement from Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive, The Group of Eight

Thank you.

Our starting point is twofold:

International education is critical to supporting our nation’s strategic and foreign policy objectives.

Secondly – the Go8 welcomes as international students those who will make quality graduates, therefore they must come to us as quality students.

We describe them in exactly the same way, as we describe our domestic graduates – as the leaders of tomorrow.

Those who stay here have much to offer Australia.

Those who return home, which is currently the majority, have received a world-class higher education to advance themselves and their own countries.

But there is far more to accepting a quality international student and their fees.

A financial transaction must be seen by Australia as but one part of a very large international student canvas.

Those who spend their time with us see our freedoms, understand our democracy and what that means to daily life.

That is invaluable. It is what makes up “soft power”- power that opens nation-to-nation doors.

When China was no longer on speaking terms with our previous Government, we never lost access.

The Go8 finds it hard to forget that our Prime Minister at the time had told our international students already here, that if they could not support themselves, they should go home. There would be no help.

In this new political era, we need to make sure we do much better, and I have every confidence we will.

Because it is simply fact that international education keeps diplomatic and trade doors ajar which are for others slammed shut.

We know that this also reduces the risk of potential conflict in our region based on misunderstandings. It is far harder to misunderstand a country and its people when you know them well.

It is the strong view of the Go8 that Australia must better recognise, that international education is not only able to support strategic and foreign policy objectives but that it can and does and therefore must be viewed as a key supporting pillar of regional stability, and of course within that, trade stability.

We must always look far beyond the dollar signs and embrace the totality of the international education value.

I am here talking to you – the Trade subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

We are a trading nation and international education is one of our most valuable resources. It should be leveraged to strengthen and progress national prosperity.

We’ve seen successive governments increasingly weave an education element into trade agreements. That’s because success depends on being equipped not only for the traditional trade routes of the past, but also for the intellectual trade routes of the present and future.