Return of students to universities to strengthen Australia-India ties


It has been incredible to see international students returning to Australian shores. The on-campus hiatus forced upon us by the pandemic illustrated what we already knew: students are the heartbeat of university life. Universities have been thrilled to welcome back a vibrant and diverse cohort of international students; chief among them is the Indian contingent.

Indian students are now the largest group applying for student visas in Australia. In fact, the number of Indian students on our campus is higher than the pre-pandemic levels. The significance of this rebound is multifaceted and mutually beneficial.

International education is Australia’s third largest export. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that international students contributed more than $25.5 billion in 2022—a figure that is now on the rise after a sharp drop from the 2019 record of $40 billion. Host countries, including Australia, recognise not only the economic benefits of international students but also the meaningful cultural and social value they provide. This is the reason governments try to sweeten the deal for international students, offering incentives such as scholarships, work rights and potential migration pathways.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was in India recently with a vision to deepen cooperation in higher education. Meanwhile, a mutual recognition agreement signed earlier this month by India’s Minister of Education and Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan and Australia’s Minister for Education Jason Clare paves the way for tertiary qualifications to have equal recognition in both countries.

The ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to creating a working group on transnational education, which is set to further collaboration opportunities, even as Minister Clare highlighted his desire to work with professions on mutual recognition agreements, which would allow both Australian and Indian graduates to practice professionally in either country.

These initiatives complement an already appealing study destination. Along with Canada, the USA and the UK, Australia is one of the top-four choices for Indian students, with more than 40,000 opting for a bachelor's or master's degree at an Australian university in 2019. Less than a decade earlier, that number was just 5,000.

Australia’s world-class education system and globally recognised universities are certainly a key reason for this growth, but there are others, such as the strong and successful Indian community that is already established in Australia; positive feedback from current or former Indian students about their experience in Australia; and the robust student protection laws, which ensure students are safe whilst they are in Australia.

Australian universities have partnered with top institutions and corporates in India, providing opportunities for student exchange, articulation programmes, specialised training, internships, research, and professional development. Some Indian hospitals are preferred collaborators for clinical placements of Doctor of Medicine students and for research and internships in STEM.

Universities are witnessing a high demand from India in fields like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data science, and business analytics, as well as the traditionally popular degrees in engineering, psychology, medicine and finance, clearly indicating that students have high-skilled and high-paid professions in their sights. Growing numbers of students are also choosing to study a double master's. They are the backbone of our relationship with India and crucial to helping further strengthen the Australia-India partnership.

Professor S. Bruce Dowton is the vice chancellor and president of Macquarie University

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