Asian Century misses crucial visa link to education

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Monday, 29 October 2012

The Federal Government must address current visa constraints to fully realise the potential of education in its Asia relations according to the University of Adelaide's Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Warren Bebbington.

"For decades, Australian universities have been deeply involved in almost all of the incentives announced as new in the Asian Century White Paper," said Professor Bebbington. "What is lacking is a stronger link between education and employment of foreign students.

"It's nice to see the importance of higher education in the Asian Century recognised, but the paper does not go far enough for what we need."

Professor Bebbington raised concerns about the impact of immigration constraints on student enrolment and subsequent employment opportunities in Australia.

"Above all, a change to Australia's visa rules to allow Asian graduates to stay here and use their quality education by gaining meaningful work is the key change we need," he said. "The recent Knight Review recommendations have gone some way to addressing the situation, with two-year work rights, but that is still quite limited.

"For years the US has regarded foreign students as valued additions to their nation's intellectual capital; they welcome outstanding graduates into their business community; but Australia remains flat out ensuring Asian students go home as soon as they finish university. Indeed even in fields where some immediate professional experience is essential, we provide all kinds of obstacles to retaining that knowledge and skills-base.

"A change of immigration policy that encourages Asian students to stay and contribute to Australia's society would make more difference than any of the other domestic-based policy suggestions in the white paper."

The Vice-Chancellor said that the importance of Australia taking a quality western education to Asia was as important as an emphasis on increasing Asian language studies at home.

"There is also a misunderstanding in the report," he said. "Asia looks to Australia not as a centre of study for Asian language, but as a beacon of Western education and culture in Asia.

"What Asia wants from our leading universities is western scientific method, western thought; not Asian cultural study, something they could get better at home.

"This is why the best Asian universities are urgently moving to teaching in English. It would be better if the current decline in Asian languages and culture in our schools was reversed, but I don't actually think that is as pivotal as is suggested."


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