Dean Forbes



Australian International Education Conference

Sydney, 13-16 October 2009

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International)

Flinders University

A national strategy for international education can mean many different things.  We need to be clear, for instance, whether the focus is on Australia’s international students, or international education more generally.

International education in Australia has grown through a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies.   There have been many drivers: individuals, institutions, corporate groups, non-profit entities, and the federal, and in some circumstances, state governments.

The mix that brings these components together has changed over time.  And there are many different interpretations of the key drivers that have brought about the impressive success that is Australia’s international education industry.

From the universities viewpoint, there are at least two key points to be made.

Australian universities’ strategic directions for international education are currently centred around a diverse and evolving mix of ‘third wave’ internationalisation activities.  These emphasise international partnerships and collaborations around research, contributions to higher education capacity building, joint and double degrees, fostering a sense of global citizenship and responsibility among our staff and students and, yes, attracting international students to Australia.

There is a broad consensus among universities about this overall thrust.  Equally, there is great (and healthy) diversity in how these kinds of processes are addressed within institutions, and how they mesh with institutional strategic plans.

Do universities need, or want, a national strategy for Australian international education?  While I believe the answer is yes, we do, the form that that national strategy should take is far from clear.  And the timing needs to be right.  I suspect I am not the only one who finds the current frenzied activity in Australia is producing more heat than light. 

The Bradley Report pointed us in the right direction.  But its main focus was other aspects of university activity. 

Before we launch into developing a national strategy we need to take a deep breath.  We need to decide exactly what it is we want to achieve, and have a clear understanding of the drivers within the sector over the next 20 or so years.  In particular, we will need to understand the right kind of balance between the role of the government and the role of the sector - the educational institutions - in the strategy.  And there will need to be a much more substantial and nuanced consultation between the government and the sector than there has been in recent months.