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AIBC Education webinar, “The critical role of the regulator in promoting higher education to meet the needs of Australian Economy & Community.”

Australia India Business Council (AIBC) National Chair, Jim Varghese AM, highlighted the council’s mission to promote trade dialogue between India and Australia, through nurturing and maintaining close business relationships in both Australia and India.  “Indeed, we thrive on business to business relationships.”  He was speaking as the Moderator of the recent AIBC Education webinar, “The critical role of the regulator in promoting higher education to meet the needs of Australian Economy and Community,” held on 10 December, with over 200 participants. The Victorian Institute of Technology (VIT) was the event partner.

The webinar brought together experts and leaders from the higher education industry to discuss innovative and exciting ways of how Australian quality and standards and the industry tackled current challenges, most particularly those created by the global pandemic, and become more future-focussed to new enterprise.

AIBC Queensland President, Nik Senapati, in his Welcome, stated the topic was important, as leaders and regulators worked on the future of what was one of Australia’s flagship export sectors. “The loss of international students in 2020 has created unprecedented challenges and right now we need clarity and pathways from regulators and leaders to show us the way,” he stated.

Keynote Speaker, Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor, University of Queensland said “There was room for growth in the Australia India education partnership.”  Mr Varghese AO, who is also a former Australian High Commissioner to India and former Secretary of DFAT, said “it was important to build on trade and economic relationship by not only improving Australia as a destination for Indian students, but creating awareness in Australia, of what India could contribute and build “an education relationship which draws on the best of the best in both of our countries.”  “I think a key part of focusing more on quality is to focus more on research and give more emphasis to postgraduate links between the two countries and research collaborations.”  “Universities have their own way of doing it.  My own University has entered into a partnership with IIT Delhi for joint PHDs. That is just one example. There are many others.” “As we seek to decrease our dependence on a single market in China, I think the case for India grows,” he added.

Mr Varghese AO said “COVID 19, rather than create a new reality, had accelerated trends such as moving to new delivery methods, like going online.”  But he queried the regulator’s stance on a greater online presence in higher education.  “We’re all going to have to adapt. And that means that the regulator itself is going to have to adapt to those differing operating models.” “This is about building a long-term partnership that serves the national interests of both our countries. And finally, I would just say that we need to be open to new forms of collaboration,” he added.

Alistair Maclean, CEO, TEQSA said higher education was Australia’s largest service-based export and international education contributed some $337.5 billion to the economy last year.  But the pandemic required the regulator to rapidly shift focus in under dynamic circumstances. “We relaxed the national Code to enable online teaching to international students both onshore here in Australia and offshore, and that was critical in allowing international students within the country to continue their studies,” he said.  The measures helped retain international students and supported higher education providers. In addition, the federal government’s higher education relief package, included funding to assist students and providers and supported the sector in the rapid transition to online learning.  Mr Maclean said “academic integrity remained a key priority for the agency and enforcement of new government laws was a key focus. “ “The work that we’ve done in 2020 was to address or reduce some of the regulatory burdens on the sector and respond to the very real impacts of the pandemic. Our focus has remained on assuring the quality of the student experience,” he added.

Arjun Surapaneni, CEO, VIT remarked on the rapid growth of higher education which was projected to increase exponentially in the next two decades. He said “Such rapid growth would also lead to improved quality in services. He called for extra Federal Government funding for the regulator to support this projected growth.” “To recruit additional staff of high quality at middle and junior level and reduce the staff turnover, but also to improve the current processing timelines and to support the digital and knowledge economy.  And retain Australia’s place as a leader in the global knowledge and digital economy,” he said.

Dr Michael Tomlinson, Higher Education Governance and Quality Consultant, VIT, highlighted the importance of entry and visa standards, the prominence of academic boards and monitoring of the student experience and getting that mix right.  On the projected growth of the industry he stressed the importance of preserving quality over volume and even consider less volume if it affected quality.

Dr Partha Mukherjee, AIBC Industry Chair of Education and Skills Development, addressed the need for collaborative research and innovation in higher education.  He suggested dedicated research campuses be set up by universities, instead of following the traditional path of research undertaken by busy academics. “Research delivers the best when it is dedicated, collaborative and focused. Through the collaboration of different universities, and their science and technologies will help in terms of both the economy and the community and regulator. Government and industry will definitely play a very important part,” he said.  Dr Mukherjee also stressed the importance of enhancing the experiences of international students in Australia. “One thing students always tell me that one of the objectives of their coming to Australia is that while they’re studying, they would like to also see and experience the country.” He suggested the possibility of delivering four semesters at four separate universities, campuses and locations, in capital cities and at various regional centres.

Amritha Zachariah, AIBC Queensland Education Chapter and Qld State Treasurer delivered the official vote of thanks.

Jim Varghese AM
National Chair
Australia India Business Council Ltd.
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