Victoria’s (Australia) Minister for Education and Minister for Skills and Workforce Participation, Bronwyn Pike, MP, visited India recently to engage with stakeholders across the education landscape in New Delhi and Bangalore. The visit also underlined the strengthening of ties between India and Victoria in the education arena and served to highlight the high-calibre education that Victoria offers to Indian students. Minister Pike spoke to HT Horizons about some important issues that Indian students are concerned with and gave some valuable advice to them. Here are some excerpts:
The safety factor
I have come to India because we have had a long-standing relationship, particularly where school eduation is concerned. Many of our universities and schools of technical and further education have had long-standing partnerships with universities and colleges throughout India. So, I want to continue to work for that.
I am also very aware of the challenge when it comes to Indian students coming to Australia to study and very much want to reinforce the fact that Australia is a great place to study. We have a high quality of education and we are a very safe and welcoming community. From time to time, there are incidents that affect members of the community – it could be Indian members from the community, it could be the Chinese, or others. There have been incidents and it is important to understand that just as in your city there are places here that you won’t go to alone after dark – not that something would happen, but it just might, and so you have to take care. We also have very strong rules in Australia. The incidents of violence that have been reported are before courts and if there is any racial basis to any crime then there’s a much harsher penalty in Victoria. We have the legislation that empowers judges to impose a much harsher penalty if there is a race bias. And that’s because we are not a racist society.
There may be a few bigots but we don’t tolerate that. Australia has for years welcomed students and immigrants from all over the world and they have a very happy arrangement.
Support for students
We are doing a lot of work helping people get the right perception of the country. We have also increased police presence in public transport and the streets. Where support for students is concerned, we have opened up a 24-hour International Students Care Service where students can come in physically or contact the representatives to get advice on anything related to health, eduation, immigration and safety. We have also set up a ‘Welcome Desk’ at Melbourne International Airport, which has all the information in international student just getting off a plane would require. I also launched a Culture Card at the Melbourne Cricket Ground a couple of weeks ago. It will allow students free or cheap entry to many iconic places. This is done by forging partnerships with organisations that offer discounts on products/services. We’re offering this facility because we want students to get close to Australian culture – and not just hang around with each other. We want them to explore our cuisines – like we love Indian food!
Reduction in numbers
Yes, there has been a reduction in the number of students – of about 7 percent. But that’s mainly because the list of occupations for skilled migrations has been reduced (181 skilled occupations listed instead of 418). What this means is that some courses like hairdressing have been removed from
Some education providers would tell the students: ‘come and do a hairdressing course in Australia and then you can stay in Australia.’ That gate has been shut. A number of dubious operators would get people here thinking they could get immigration here by doing a hairdressing course when they never intended to become hairdressers. We think the reduction in numbers of students is for a short period of time.
Focus on quality
We want to really focus on quality education... lay stress on the courses that are going to give students the skills to go back to India to highly paid and highly professional jobs. Also, if people choose to stay in Australia in well-suited jobs then they’ll get good opportunities to work here. We want to be a high quality education destination.
What’s in demand?
The Indian response is very high for high-quality universities, which are all government universities. Demand for admission to the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges is very high.
Technology-based, IT-based, business and science (mathematics especially)-based programmes have been popular with Indian students. Law courses are also in demand as the legal system in India and Australia are similar – a legacy of the British. Engineering and accounting courses, too, are in demand. We would like the students to know more about arts and humanities courses, and about sports management – now that you are having the Commonwealth Games in your country. There should be more avenues for sports marketing and sports management opening up.
Be careful, students
As said earlier, there has been a reduction in admission seekers to colleges offering shift courses – which anyway were seen as an easy pathway to residency.
Most of the reduction has been in the short ocurses. We don't like there to be a reduction but I am much more concerned that we have a strong reputation as a quality education provider. We are going through a period where we have to get tougher with some colleges (some did exit the market during the financial crisis). Though the changes are happening I am very confident that we will go from strength to strength.
What we say to the students is: do your research.
check www.immi.gov.au for the immigration rules. Do your homework, go to the High Commission. Do internet research. Websites of the top universities give you the information you want. The thing we can’t control is the fly-by-night operators so don’t go to an agent that is not registered, not accredited – only use an Australian government accredited agent. Also, one does not really need an agent. All the big universities have people here on the ground, have their websites, so you should check them out and ask all the questions you want to and make that choice.
As told to Ayesha Banerjee