Linda Mottram: The rise in the number of students coming from India is actually great news isn't it after the difficulties of the past years?
Andrew Robb: It's wonderful news. In fact, I think they are now the second largest cohort of international students after the Chinese. And it has meant that we're back to very high levels of income – export income – nearly $16 billion. International education is now our third biggest export industry after iron ore and coal.
Linda Mottram: That is extraordinary isn't it? And no doubt the currency trend has been working in our favour?
Andrew Robb: That's very true, the currency has helped. I think the much improved visa processing has made a big difference. There's been a very serious effort to really take the relationship with India to another level. I just got back from taking 450 Australian businesses, including a lot of education institutions, to India for eight days. And the reception we received was overwhelming and positive. And it's all led by the new prime minister, Prime Minister Modi.
Linda Mottram: Yes, it's an amazing market and a very interesting prime ministership there. Just one of the points raised in the story I was reading in The Australian this morning is concern that some of the Indian students think they are going to be able to stay permanently in Australia after they graduate. How are you tackling that?
Andrew Robb: Well we have made a visa arrangement so that these post graduate students can stay for up to three years and work here. Which is in our view a very important thing not only for the students coming here but for our students going into the region, because you really develop the contacts and linkages which many times, lasts a lifetime in the working relationships, not just in the studying situations. So, we really encouraged it and it has been a great attraction. I saw that in one of the articles this morning. It's quite clear that it doesn't lead to citizenship; maybe they're taking their chances to see whether something might change. But it's still in its own right, a very significant attraction that they could work here, gain some vital experience in another country, and go back home. They'll be far more valuable with that under their belt than they would otherwise.
Linda Mottram: Andrew Robb the Trade Minister is with me. In terms of maintaining our end of the bargain with students, what do you need to do to ensure that services are maintained at a high level, that we don't sort of slip in the areas that we might have in the past?
Andrew Robb: Well, really the couple of areas that we slipped in, there were a number of shonks who were operating more in the area of skills training, rather than the university area. The universities are highly competitive; I think we offer some of the best experiences for students anywhere in the world because it is competitive and because they do bring so much money to the universities and a lot of that cross subsidise the rest of us to be honest.
There is a great incentive to give them a good experience. Now as I said there were practices with some of the skills areas – with trades – where people did get brought in, run through courses in an attempt to get them citizenship.
Now with both sides of politics, I think Labor made a fair fist of getting on top of that and we’ve taken that up as well. And I do feel that's been in many ways remedied, if not totally. And also, we currently have got some 600,000 students here. I think within 10 years, given the growth of the middle class that's going on in the region around us, we could be educating up to 10 million students. Not all here, because there's an increasing trend now for Australian universities to joint venture in China, in Vietnam, in India and to take those capabilities – our course structures, our lecturers – and I think you are going to see that especially in India, in the skills area; they've got hundreds of millions of young people who haven't had a very strong primary education, and the skills training will be fundamental. And, I think the opportunities for Australia are enormous in the next 10 years.
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