“We are nearly through the worst,” he told delegates at the final day of AIEC on October 8. “The light is on the horizon. And we are going to back all the way to get back even better.”
Acknowledging how tough the previous 18 months have been for the international education sector, Tudge praised the “persistence and perseverance during these difficult times”.
“Obviously since we closed our borders last March, no new in-country commencements have occurred, and many thousands of others have been stuck offshore in the middle of their course,” he said.
“I also want to thank the international students for the patience they have shown. Thousands have continued to do their studies offshore or even enrolled in new courses offshore. We want to have you in Australia for the full experience of Australian life and I am confident that this will happen very soon.”
“My hope would be that tens of thousands can return”
While Australians and permanent residents will be eligible first when international travel will recommences in November, students and skilled workers are “the next cab off the ranks”, he continued.
An International Covid-19 Vaccine Certificate, to be introduced in October, will eventually be expanded “to authenticate vaccination certificates issued by other countries”, he stated.
The recognition of Sinovac and Covishield vaccines is “critical” for international students in Australia’s largest source countries such as India and China, and pilots in various states “are all very promising”.
“We have small numbers coming in later this year which will hopefully build confidence. The New South Wales government is expecting to have around 500 international students return in December, following significant discussions and planning between the state and the Commonwealth,” he said.
“We are also working closely with South Australia on final details of when and how students will return to there, under the plan we supported in June. And the Victorian government submitted its plan to the Commonwealth. It is now being reviewed by Commonwealth agencies. These are all very promising and they are happening this year.
“Looking into next year, my expectation is that we will have very significant numbers coming in. My hope would be that tens of thousands can return.”
International students have been an “incredible” source of revenue for Australian institutions and businesses, generated important linkages across neighbouring countries, and many have gone on to become outstanding citizens of our nation, he added.
“I cannot be clearer about our desire to get international students back into the country… This is one of our great export industries and we want to see it return strongly.” The upcoming Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030 will cover issues in “greater depth”, Tudge added.
“We have the quality institutions, we have the lifestyle, we have a desire to make visa products competitive, and we have opportunities for many to stay on and make a long lasting contribution to our nation.”
This year’s AIEC saw a large participation of industry leaders and professionals, with over 1,200 delegates and more than 230 speakers, partaking in over 70 sessions.
“Despite the many obstacles [prospective] international students are holding onto their study abroad dreams, but they can’t wait forever,” CEO and managing director IDP Education Andrew Barkla said.
“This AIEC in 2021, well may prove to be the most important ever.
“International education is about human experience and our sector has a collective responsibility to use our learnings from the pandemic, to reimagine the future, to ensure that our new technologies will empower people and bring them together.”
The industry has always been dynamic, added Janelle Chapman, president of IEAA.
“With emerging challenges, perhaps this is our greatest test. But the resilience and the innovation of the people involved in this sector, will surely support us in achieving our goals.”
Futurist and author Bernard Salt showcased the imperative for international students and skilled migrants to come to Australia using the latest trend analysis.
“We are a positive, can do, forward looking kind of people,” he said.
Emphasising the need for university educated workers and those with technical and vocational skill-sets, he noted that the “hope for Australia’s future means rebuilding a better version of the Australia we left behind”.
“That requires skill level 1 jobs. And, you get those from universities. We need to be investing in universities, to get the skills, prosperity, and lifestyle that we aspire for our nation, going forward,” he explained.
“There needs to be an all-hands-on-deck [approach] to ensure that Australia has the means to deliver the rebuilding that is required [post Covid].”
Dee Madigan, executive creative director of marketing and advertising agency Campaign Edge spoke about the communications strategy the sector could deploy to convince others outside its fold, on the importance of international education’s rich value additions to the economy, the social fabric and to local communities on the whole.
“There needs to be a domestic campaign to make people realise just how valuable [the sector] is”
“If you talk about the local economy, people are super empathetic and it becomes an argument that is much more sellable [and relatable at a local level],” she said.
“There needs to be a domestic campaign to make people realise just how valuable [the sector] is.”
Also speaking on the final day was renowned political writer and poet Fatima Bhutto, reminding of the importance of international education.
“I am a child of international education, being lucky enough to reach out to new ways of thinking, new ways of learning, to people of different countries, communities, religions, and ways of being — we need that so desperately right now.
“International education reminds us that the world is not as divided as it may seem. That, what we all want for ourselves and our children is [ultimately] the same thing.”