Australia's Minister for Education Jason Clare speaks at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. Image: Martin Ollman/Getty Images
During his second visit to India this year, Australia’s Education Minister Jason Clare pointed out that the country has more Indian residents per capita than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “And that living bridge has helped bind our two countries closer today than ever before,” he said at the Australia-India Institute annual oration held at Gujarat’s Gandhinagar on November 7. The minister was here as part of the first Australia-India Education and Skills Council meeting and launch Australia's Education Strategy for India.
About a million Australians of Indian heritage can trace their roots back to India. “When I say a million, you might think that's a small number. But that's one in 26 Australians,” the minister told Forbes India. “There are more Australians of Indian heritage in Australia as a percentage of the population than any other country in the OECD. This makes it a natural partner for India in business and in all the things we want to work on together.”
According to the country's last census, Indians are now the second-largest migrant group in Australia, overtaking the Chinese and second only to the English. The fresh wave of Indian immigrants has largely been driven by the tech sector, as the country has a high demand for skilled workers. Over 710,000 Indians live in Australia at the moment.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sydney in May, both countries announced a migration deal to make it easier for students, academics, and professionals to travel and work in India and Australia. In March, when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid his first official visit to India since entering office, the two heads of state discussed defence and security, economic cooperation, education, and bilateral trade. They also signed an agreement for “mutual recognition of Australian and Indian education qualifications” that will be beneficial for the student communities from the two countries, in addition to increasing the presence of Australian universities in India.
“It's November now, and those announcements have turned into buildings,” said Clare, who visited GIFT City (Gujarat International Finance Tec City), where Australia’s Deakin University and the University of Wollongong Indian campuses are being opened and will be operational from the next academic year. These are the first two international universities to be approved to set up campuses in India. According to the minister, the opening of campuses in India highlights that international education is not only a one-way street or about international students coming to Australia, but also increasingly about Australian universities going around the world.
Deakin University, which will offer two postgraduate courses to students at the GIFT City campus—masters in cybersecurity (professional) and masters in business analytics—started seeking applications earlier this week at an annual fee of AUD 19,000 (around Rs 10.7 lakh). Sixty students would be accommodated in each course during the June 2024 academic session. From January, the University in Wollongong will start seeking applications at its GIFT City branch for masters in computing (data analytics) for the July 2024 session. The university will open admission for its undergraduate programme in computing in 2025.
“These universities will be offering these courses at half the price that they offer in Australia. For many Indian students who can't afford to go to Australia to study, there's the opportunity to do that right here in Gujarat,” said Clare.
Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan held a bilateral meeting with his Australian counterpart and informed that five memorandum of understanding (MoUs) were signed between Indian and Australian HEI’s (higher education institutions) to foster collaborative research in the areas of agriculture, water management, critical minerals, healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, and climate change.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes India, Clare spoke about contributing to India’s ambition of growing universities, reactions from private and public universities here, Indian students seeking permanent residency, and more. Edited excerpts:
Q. How does Australia compare with other countries in terms of education quality? What is unique about it?
Australian universities are regarded as among the best in the world. Excellent in terms of rankings, research, and the qualifications they provide. That's why so many Indians come to Australia to study every year. There are about 100,000 Indians in Australia right now, not only at universities but also at other institutions getting qualifications. But not everybody can afford to go to Australia. It's expensive to get the degrees and live there. This is another way to get the same opportunity and the same qualifications. That's why I said international education doesn't have to be a one-way stream. It doesn't have to be about you having to leave India to go to Australia. It can be about Australian universities coming to India.
Q. What would you recommend to an Indian student: Join an Australian university in India or go to Australia?
Different people will make different decisions. I would just encourage Indian students that are thinking about studying at GIFT City to look at what the University of Wollongong and Deakin University have to offer, look at the courses, and see if they're right for them. This is just the start. I hope that more Australian universities will follow in the footsteps of Wollongong and Deakin and set up campuses here. Not just in Gujarat, but in other parts of India as well.
Q. How's the reaction from the private and public universities in India?
Very positive. It's not about competition. It's about collaboration. India's National Education Policy (NEP) means that tens of millions more Indians will go to university in the years ahead than today. And that India will grow from having 1,000 universities to having 2,000 universities over the course of the next few decades. Australia will contribute in a small way to that growth. The universities that are here in India today will all grow as more and more students go to university. That's our experience in Australia. Over the last 50 years, universities that began small have become large.
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Q. Things have moved quite swiftly in terms of execution. But were there any roadblocks?
The feedback I've gotten from Australian universities is that the collaboration has been first-class. There is a desire by both countries to work together, to solve any problems, and to make sure that the shared vision becomes a reality. And we're seeing evidence of that on this trip because the announcement we made is now translating into action.
Q. Indian students seeking permanent residency in Australia have indicated that the rules either keep changing or are getting stricter. What’s the reason for that?
I won't pre-empt some of the reforms to migration that Australia is examining at the moment. But we do recognise that in the area of international student education, there are a number of students who find themselves in temporary visa limbo. And that— sort of permanently temporary status—is not good for Australia or for students. We want to make sure that people who come to Australia get a great education, have the opportunity, once they graduate, to contribute to the workforce, and also have the opportunity for permanent residency. That is something that the Australian government is looking at, at the moment.
Q. Are you not worried about the number of Indian students going to Australia coming down with the universities coming here?
With the size and scale of what India is hoping to achieve in the next few decades, going from having 40 million to 90 million people at the university over the course of the next three decades, I think more and more Indian students will be looking for higher education, not just here at home but also abroad, not just in Australia but in the US, in the UK, and in many other parts of the world. If India is successful in enriching the targets it has set for itself, one in four people in the world who gets a university degree will get it here in India. It will be nation-changing stuff for India, and Australia believes that, as friends of India, we can play a role in helping to achieve that ambition by working together. That involves educating students in Australia, but also educating students here in India.