Dean Forbes


Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee International Education Conference,

Novotel, Brighton Beach, Sydney, 16-17 November 2006

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International)

Flinders University


I have been given the task of providing an ‘institutional perspective’ on the value of peak bodies to the sector, by which I guess we primarily mean the universities. 

I should make clear two factors influencing my presentation.  First, Anne Reynolds of the AVCC (or Universities Australia, as it is shortly to be renamed) has spoken, and I don’t want to repeat what she has to say.  Second, I have a particular perspective.  Having chaired the DVC(I) Committee since mid 2004, and been on the Executive since 2001 (and a member since its formation in 1998), I have been compromised.  But I will step back and look critically at this.

The value of peak bodies is a particularly important issue.  The formation of Universities Australia is a sign that the landscape in Australia is changing.  I believe that the way universities approach international education is also in the process of transformation.  We need to have a clear understanding of these changes and their implications for the peak bodies.

PART I: THE AVCC. 2004-06

There are three key AVCC/UA standing committees that inform international perspectives and strategy.

The AVCC Board and Plenary.  These two committees are, of course, the repository of all knowledge and wisdom within the university sector.

The AVCC International Committee.  This is currently Chaired by Ian Goulter, Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University.  The membership from 2004-06 included Tony Adams (Macquarie), Jim Langridge (Wollongong) and myself, and Anne Reynolds as Director of International at the AVCC. 

The AVCC PVC/DVC(I) Committee.  I have been the Chair, as I said, and the other two members are Tony Adams and Jim Langridge (John Wood, from Edith Cowen University and Tony Pollock when at Monash were previously on the Committee but resigned because of changes of jobs).  The incoming Chair for 2007-08 will be Stephen Martin from VUT, and a new Committee is being elected.

I want to now focus on the work that the DVC(I) has undertaken.  Before saying any more let me pre-empt the first question you might have asked and say yes, both the IC and the DVC(I) committees have been all-male affairs.  By way of mitigation I can point out that the positions have been filled through election, and Anne Reynolds, as Director International in the AVCC has also been an ex officio member of the DVC(I) Committee, and, I might add, its hardest working member.  The new Committee will have a gender balance.

In my view the DVC(I) committee has had two prime purposes.  First, to provide a forum, and network, for DVC(I)s to meet, and discuss, international issues, both within the group, and with representatives of outside agencies.  Second, to provide advice to the AVCC International Committee, and thus the AVCC, about key issues affecting the universities international programs.

Expanding on this a little, the relationship between the universities and the Commonwealth government have been a central focus of attention.

•    Links with the Department of Education, Science and Training, especially Australian Education International (AEI): the review of ESOS legislation and the National Code; the TNQ Strategy and so on.

•    Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs: Student visas, particularly at the time of the introduction of the four-band assessment levels.  More recently a focus has been changes to the General Skilled Migration Visa

•    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: AusAID Scholarships, negotiations of Free Trade Agreements (FTA)

•    Tracking the Opposition Party (eg the Labor Party statement on Higher Education)

Other regular issues include

•    Relationship with IDP

•    International student issues

•    Australian student mobility

•    Other issues raised internationally (eg Links with countries, such as New Zealand, and regions; SARS and Avian Influenza; Forum EA and student mobility etc) 

To offset this concentration on the ‘issues of the day’ we have also made a couple of serious attempts to speculate about the long-term future of international education and think about what we will need to do to respond the challenges we face in the future.  We held strategy meetings in 2004 (Gold Coast) and 2005 (Adelaide) to generate some broad and candid discussion about the future.  Unfortunately we failed to get support from the AVCC Board for a major study with the working title ‘Looking Forward, Looking Back’ that was intended to set out the accomplishments of the universities since the emergence of fee-paying international students in the mid 1980s, and a broad outline strategy for the next 10-20 years.

Reflecting back, I believe one of the most significant benefits of the DVC(I) committee is that it has provided a platform for informal exchanges among participants and the development of networks for the exchange of information and support in building international programs within universities..

Three more problematical issues arise from the relationship between what the AVCC does and other broad based bodies do in the international arena.

First, the university groupings such as the Innovative Research Universities Australia (IRU Australia); The Group of Eight, and the Australian Technology Network (ATN).   As Chair of the IRU Australia International Committee I can be confident that there is no real overlap of the responsibilities of that group and the AVCC.  The IRU Australia International Committee meets regularly, but does not have a long or highly structured agenda.  It focuses on a limited number of strategic issues affecting the IRU Australia universities, and along with that, is generally flexible and opportunistic in its approach.

Second, the relationship with the Australian Universities International Directors’ Forum (AUIDF) can be more complicated.  Unlike the DVC(I) Committee, which sits under the AVCC umbrella, the AUIDF is a stand alone body.  Where there have been further attempts at differentiation, such as a suggestion  that the DVC(I) focuses on policy issues and the AUIDF on operational matters, this has generally not been well received.

Third, the emergence of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) as a professional organization for those involved in international education also has implications for the AVCC’s international activities.  These are beginning to become more apparent.  My impression is that bodies such as AEI use IEAA as an alternative to the AVCC when it canvasses opinion in the higher education sector.


I now want to shift attention from talking about the AVCC to talking about the soon to be formed Universities Australia, and the challenges that has over the next decade. 

There are two important issues which provide a backdrop to this discussion.  First, the issues identified as a result of a commissioned review of the AVCC by the ubiquitous Phillips KPR, the suggestion of changes to the way the AVCC operated and the proposed focus on advocacy, analysis and services, and the establishment of Universities Australia. 

Second, another important issue that we need to think about is the changing role of DVC(I) within Australian universities, and in a bigger context, the changing place of international activities in universities and hence in Universities Australia.  For example, several universities have redefined international portfolios to include a stronger emphasis on international research links and international research students.  In others there has been a mainstreaming of international activities, signalling a sense of complacency about the international aspirations of the university.

The core business of the UA international, it seems to me, should be collectively identifying and discussing the issues of the day and imagining and discussing the national future.  This should then be part of UA’s international strategy and overall position.

In terms of actual activities, the focus should be on four themes.

First. engaging with the policy makers in a rigorous two-way fashion.  That necessarily means respecting the views/constraints of bureaucrats and politicians, and engaging not just in issues of self-interest, but also in issues of national interest.  More emphasis needs to be placed on building communities of support within government.  For a peak body, this remains its most significant task.

Second, building focused alliances with industry (eg tourism) and other organizations (eg  employer representative bodies), both in Australia and internationally.  How long is a piece of strong?  We need to focus on particular areas, of course, to make this manageable.

Both these first two points are consistent with the Phillips KPA recommendations.

Third, I want to throw in something out of left field.  UA international should be a leader in building the framework of self-regulation for the higher education sector through, for example, the development of Codes of Practice and processes for disseminating Best Practice.  We are all concerned about excessive government regulation of international education: it helps to establish an ethos of clear sectoral responsibility.

Fourth and finally, UA international should continue to provide a forum for learning from peers.  The formal and informal learning that occurs through the AVCC PVC/DVC(I), through the sharing information, insights and best practice has been a very valuable element for committee members since its establishment.

Within the UA, how should it go about marshalling views on international issues?  The Phillips KPA report suggests the establishment of an external relations and alliances standing committee, but I don’t believe that this would be the best structure to deal with the kinds of issues that I have addressed.  It would be more helpful to think through within the PVC/ DVC (I) committee what kind of structures would best suit the new Universities Australia.

To sum up, as the AVCC morphs into Universities Australia there are many changes that will take place.  At the same time, universities are clearly rethinking their international roles, and there is uncertainty about how international education will be managed in the future.  We have an interesting 12 months ahead of us.