Indian lessons: Australian opportunities in education
“There’s a shortage of people in the mining sector already and we’re seeing an expansion in the number of projects, so that’s going to be exacerbated even further. Either we need to skill up more people in Australia or bring in skilled people from outside to fill these places,” explains Linford. “They said: ‘We have training facilities in-country. We’ll provide you with all the people you need to train—some of them will be in vocational areas such as electricians, drivers, and some will be geologists and architects—we’ll pay all of their fees, you train them they get an accredited qualification and then we’ll have qualified Indian workers.”
Austrade saw this as a low-risk, high-yield venture. The educators wouldn’t need to set up schools and collect fees and the students wouldn’t need to worry about visas or living costs as everything would be run through the companies who required these skilled workers. From that one case, the model has now been rolled out to other Indian and Australian mining companies.
“It’s all paid for by industry and it actually costs industry less because they get the right people with the right skills so they have better retention, productivity and efficiency and they have better skills,” says Linford. “For the Indian people, they get appropriate skills, a pathway to a visa. The message is the right skills in the right area and it isn’t offensive to Australia because it’s in an area where we have a shortage.”
Austrade have since broadened its approach and have had discussions with the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Mines, Ministry of Higher Education, and the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) in India. The NDSC, which has a charter to upskill 500 million people by 2015, asked if Australia could upskill a million people in the resources industry.
“The drop in student numbers in Australia is from 100,000 to 30,000, but a lot of those were not legitimate students. So we’ve said, ‘no we can’t do a million people, but let’s aim for 100,000′,” Linford says. Funded by industry, Australian educational institutions will partner with their Indian equivalents to deliver courses, and the NDSC will contribute funds towards the tuition costs of students not covered by that sector.
The model would also be appropriate for other industries, adds Linford. “Other areas that we’re looking at are agriculture, health and medical, entertainment, hospitality, sport.”
The benefit of the model is not only “a solution for us in visas, in education and in industry” but will also contribute to attracting investment, mentions Linford. “If an Indian company has the confidence that they can upskill their workers through an Australian project, as opposed to an Indonesian or African project, they will invest into it and we will attract more investment because of it.”
Compared to China, Indian investment “is being driven by entrepreneurs” rather than large state-owned corporations, says Bhatia. “There’s a huge difference: commercial decisions will not lead to an impact on our political ties.” He also predicts bilateral investment will grow. “The Indian investment in Australia will keep on growing and we will see larger investment from Australia in India. There are huge opportunities; India is expected to spend $1 trillion in infrastructure.”
Binding the two countries will be a relationship fostered by direct and indirect processes. “The [Australian] Government was very smart in establishing the Australia India Institute last year and then nominating Dr Mattoo as the director. That is now leading to weekly, if not daily, contact between opinion makers and influencers at political, academic and also business levels between the two countries.”
It seems we’ve learnt our lessons well and are now applying it in our education exports.
Interview with Peter Linford conducted by Gillian Samuel.