Indian students to gain immensely from pact with Australia, says High Commissioner Barry O'Farrell

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The India Economic Strategy to 2035 report brought out by the Australian Government states that one in every five students studying in Australian universities is from India. According to the December 2021 statistics, Indians form 19% of their students, making it the largest foreign student community in the country (Chinese students stand at 17%).

The recently signed India-Australia FTA or the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) aims at creating about 10 lakh job opportunities in Australia in the next five to seven years. Indian students will also get the opportunity to work in Australia for four years post their studies in Australia.

Australia's High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell explains this agreement and what it could mean to the Indian student community in Australia.

As your 'Update to the India Economic Strategy to 2035' says, almost 1 in 5 overseas students in Australia are from India. What are the measures you are taking to strengthen the ties with India in education and career sector?

The Australian Government is focused on a rich and holistic education engagement with India, its ministries and its institutions and benefits Indian students. India and Australia engage deeply on policy issues so that our education systems are more aligned. This alignment occurs through initiatives such as the Taskforce on Qualifications Recognition, which Prime Ministers Morrison and Modi announced on 21 March 2022. It comprises senior government officials from Australia and India. It will consider the recognition of educational qualifications delivered via diverse learning such as online and blended learning, joint degrees and offshore campuses, with the aim of optimising mobility outcomes for Australian and Indian students, graduates, and education institutions.

While not the focus of the Taskforce, improved outcomes for professional recognition and professional employment may be flow-on outcomes of the Taskforce’s work.

Australia and India are also exchanging policies on Vocational Education and Training (VET) and skills, which turn out job-ready graduates due to the greater profile given to VET throughout the student journey in India’s National Education Policy, released in 2020.

(The India Economic Strategy is an ambitious plan to transform Australia's economic partnership with India out to 2035.)

We heard that India-Australia trade pact will largely contribute to employment generation, which is estimated at around 10 lakh over the next 5 to 7 years. Could you shed more light on this?

The trade agreement gives us an opportunity to properly harness the complementary nature of our economies, particularly in areas such as critical minerals, professional services, education and tourism. Australian consumers will benefit from almost 96 per cent of Indian goods imports entering Australia duty-free, and Indian consumers and businesses will benefit from the immediate elimination of tariffs on 85 per cent of Australian goods exports to India. AI-ECTA will create new opportunities for jobs and businesses in both countries, as we work towards a full Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.

In 2020, India-Australia two-way trade was valued at $24.3 billion. Australia’s goal is for India to be in our top three export markets by 2035, and for India to be the third largest destination in Asia for outward Australian investment.

Australia has also provided new market access for culturally significant occupations for a combined total of 1,800 per year of qualified professional traditional chefs and yoga instructors entering as contractual service suppliers of India.

Australia will also provide new access for young Indians to participate in working holidays in Australia. Places in Australia's Work and Holiday programme will be set at 1,000 per year and Australia will have two years to implement the outcome.

As per the India Economic Strategy report an Australia-India Skills Portal is on anvil. Could you please tell us more about it?
The India Economic Strategy update package includes two Australia-led initiatives — the Australia- India Future Skills Initiative for Education and the Australia-India Innovation Network for the technology sector. The Australia-India Future Skills Initiative will establish a new digital platform, delivered in partnership with industry, to connect Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers, Indian businesses, government, students and employers. The initiative will support capability development and capacity building in India by upskilling India’s workforce through world-class Australian VET programmes.

It will also help to build business relationships and establish Australia as the training partner of choice, as well as upskilling India’s workforce and supporting Indian careers through employment pathways. This is critical as India has a growing youth population and a high-skills demand, with one million people turning 18 each month. The Australia-India Innovation Network will support Australian technology companies to access India’s rapidly growing innovation ecosystem and forge stronger links with customers, partners and investors in India.

What is the status of the Maitri Scholars Programme by Australia? How is it going to help India?
The Maitri Scholars Programe was announced in February this year. The Australian Government will provide over $11 million over four years to support Indian students to study at Australia’s world-leading universities. Also, the Maitri Fellowships will provide $3.5 million over four years to build links between future leaders. They will support mid-career Indian and Australian professionals to collaborate on research initiatives of strategic importance.

The Maitri initiative is aligned with the Australian Researcher Cooperation Hub-India (ARCH-India), established last year, which supports researcher engagement between India and Australia. It is an Australian Government-funded initiative and is supported by India’s Ministry of Education which is assisting with content development. ARCH-India’s primary aim is to strengthen and increase research collaboration between our countries and showcase our joint research excellence. ARCH-India serves as an online platform for researchers to connect expertise, build relationships, share information, and explore opportunities for collaboration and mobility.

In the pact there is provision for post-study work visa for 4 years on a reciprocal basis. Could you please explain how this will be implemented?
To promote the reciprocal exchange of knowledge, Australians who have successfully completed their studies and wish to supplement their training will be able to gain professional experience in India. At the same time, former Indian students will also be able to live, study and work in Australia temporarily upon completion of their studies.

The post-study work outcome commits Australia to maintain opportunities for former Indian students to live, study and work in Australia temporarily: upon completion of a diploma or trade qualification (stays of up to 18 months); a bachelor degree (stays of up to two years); a masters degree (stays of up to three years); and a doctoral degree (stays of up to four years).

In addition, the length of stay for a bachelor degree graduate with first-class honours is extended from two to three years post-study in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM), including Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sectors. This complements Australia’s focus on boosting STEM skills for the modern workforce.

The Australian Government has also offered a number of concessions to international students and graduates to ensure they are not disadvantaged by the pandemic. One of the initiatives is the Temporary Graduate Visa (TGV) programme that allows international students to live, study and work in Australia after they have finished their studies for a period of up to four years (or longer if they live and work in regional areas) depending on their level of qualification. The TGV continues to experience growth in the number of applications lodged despite border closures as a result of COVID-19.

Another major prospect of the pact is the student exchange and university partnerships between the countries. Could you share your thoughts on this?
A significant development announced by prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi at the Leaders’ Summit was the establishment of a Taskforce on Qualifications Recognition. The Taskforce will examine how the recognition of Australian and Indian qualifications can be improved to enhance participation in higher education in both countries with a focus on the recognition of: online and blended (online and face-to-face) learning, joint degrees, offshore campuses, and other diverse modes of delivery.

Recognition of qualifications underpins both trade in professional services and trade in education services by addressing barriers to the mobility of students, teachers and other professionals. This will improve mobility for Indian and Australian students, graduates and education institutions and support the growth of trade in education services between our countries.

The Taskforce comprises of officials from both countries and is expected to be in place by mid-year, reaching an agreed mechanism to enhance the recognition of qualifications by the end of 2022, and implementing the mechanism in 2023.

Throughout the pandemic, Australian and Indian universities have been meeting, negotiating, and announcing partnerships in research, faculty exchange and twinning arrangements where, for example, a student will study their first undergraduate year in India and then finish their final two years at a university in Australia.

There are hundreds of partnerships between Indian and Australian universities, with several Australian universities visiting India recently to renew relationships and forge new ties.

What would you like to tell the Indian students and professionals who are planning to move to Australia?

For any Indian student or a professional planning to go to Australia, they can be assured the support of both our governments and the welcome of the Australian community. They can be safe in the knowledge that there are a 700,000+ strong diaspora who have settled in Australia – that is 3% of our population, plus the 100,000 Indian students that ordinarily choose to study in Australia.

Of course, study and work experience in Australia is recognised and highly valued across the globe. And the standard of living, health, transport and education infrastructure is outstanding.

With the increasing closeness of our two countries, Australia is the natural destination choice for Indians who want to study and work abroad.

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