In 2008, the number of Indian students coming to Australia for higher studies was surging, reflecting Australia’s growing reputation as a provider of high-quality international education. The contribution of these students to Australia’s society, economy and culture is difficult to over-estimate. By 2010, however, the number of Indian enrolments in Australia plummeted, after a series of violent attacks on Indian students. Even now, enrolments are only just beginning to recover.
If Australia wishes to consolidate its reputation as a leading destination for high-quality international education, it must engage with India, which is now one of the world’s largest sources of international students. The Australia India Institute has recently prepared a Very Short Policy Brief, considering the potential for Australia to deepen out engagement with India’s higher education sector and increase the flow of Indian international students to Australia. We have argued that we not only need a shift in the way Australia is perceived in India, but also building stronger relationships between Australian and Indian universities. At present, Australian universities are largely dependent upon recurrent recruitment drives in order to access the Indian student market, but building more long-term ties with Indian educational institutions will lead to a more regular and sustainable flow.
There are a number of challenges to building such relations. For one, India’s qualification recognition regime fails to acknowledge some courses provided by Australia – accelerated Masters’ degrees being a case in point. Furthermore, the lack of a consistent, nation-wide accreditation regime in India makes it difficult for Australian universities to assess whether Indian students have sufficient prior learning to meet entry requirements.
There are positive signs of progress on these challenges. However, Australia cannot afford to wait for these issues to be resolved within India. In the UK, the National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) has created a centralised database which assesses the comparability of overseas qualifications with similar qualifications in the UK. There is no reason why Australia should not establish a similar database, rather than the current system in which individual universities are left to assess students’ prior learning.
We also need to forge ahead in establishing stronger relations with India’s higher education sector if we are to build a foundation for much stronger growth in the future. Universities, including Deakin, Monash and Melbourne, are forging ahead with establishing joint degree programs with Indian universities, shared supervision for higher degree research students and undergraduate student exchange.
In order to facilitate more collaborations of this kind in the future, Australia needs to incentivise faculty members to expand on their existing networks with Indian scholars and engage to a greater extent in facilitating collaboration in the teaching space. Such moves will have obvious benefits in generating revenue for Australian universities – yet not only this. Deepening our relations will ensure that Australia has access to the best higher degree research students that India has to offer. It deepens our involvement with India in the research field. It promotes social and cultural exchange between our two nations.
In our Very Short Policy Brief on higher education, The Australia India Institute is recommending that Australia should take stock of our existing experiences of success and failure in engaging with the Indian education sector. The government should provide greater incentives for Australian university staff to become involved in curricular development in India and developing joint degree programs. Most importantly, as we move further into the Asian Century, we need to broaden our vision of our future engagement with India. Facilitating a greater flow of Indian students to Australia not only offers immediate economic benefits – it also assists in the development of human capital within our region, strengthens social ties, deepens cultural understanding and facilitates the development of modern curricula.