Education: an enabler and key export sector for Australia’s future



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Helen Zimmerman is Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Navitas. Ms Zimmerman has worked in leadership roles in Australian public and private education for over 35 years. Since 2005 she has held executive roles with Navitas, an Australian top 100 Company and global education provider. Ms Zimmerman is a former President of the International Education Association of Australia and a current member of the Victorian and NSW international education advisory boards. She chairs the Australian Business and Community Network and sits on the Jobs for NSW Board. She is a member of the NSW State Advisory Council of CEDA and an Honorary Senior Fellow of the LH Martin Institute of the University of Melbourne.

Navitas Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Helen Zimmerman discusses the urgent changes needed to Australia’s education sector to keep it competitive and a central part of Australia’s future economy.

Over the last five years we’ve heard much about the transition taking place in Australia’s economy. The end of the resources boom. The need to harness future growth sectors. The emergence of more knowledge-intensive industries. A rising Asian middle class presenting new opportunities and the need to be flexible to take advantage of them.

Each of these trends puts our service sector at the heart of our future economy and Australian education – in itself our largest service export – will be the key factor in determining how well service industries can drive our future economic performance.

So how does education need to change in order to elevate the growth and productivity of our service sector? And how does education itself further cement its place as a major global export?

To answer the first question, our education and training models need to adapt to rapid changes in the way the world works. Traditional models of education are under stress. Current modes of delivery were set up for a different era, with learners exposed to a one-size-?ts-all experience in a system built for standardisation, not rapid response and adaption. This model is not meeting future workforce needs, where constant change and constant learning will be the norm. Alternative, technologically disruptive models and new providers are taking the lead and must be embraced.

Skilling for the jobs of the future is crucial. Increased automation of routine and rule-based tasks means employees will be focused more and more on work requiring creativity, and social, emotional and digital intelligence or what the Institute For the Future has described as “novel and adaptive thinking”. This means that Australia’s education and training system must deliver work-ready graduates with a capacity for free thinking and the ability to innovatively generate new ideas.

The work by Alpha Beta for the Foundation for Young Australians last year confirms the importance of what they identified as “enterprise skills”. These eight skills – problem solving, communication, ?nancial literacy, digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, team work and presentation skills – are sought after in all industries, but are essential in service sectors such as education, tourism, health, and financial and professional services.

Second, education is not only an enabler of the service sector, it is a driving force of export value in its own right. Given the focus on the success of our resources, financial services and banking sectors, it is unlikely many Australians understand just how big a contributor education is to our economy.

Worth over $22.4 billion in 2016, international education is our third largest export overall, contributing more than 130,000 jobs to the Australian economy and accounting for 1.3 per cent of Australia’s total employment. In 2016, international student numbers and related export earnings reached new highs with 554,179 international students in Australia, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.

In order to continue to grow the number of international students studying onshore in Australia, it is vital that we are not complacent. There are close to a million learners forecast to be in Australia in 2025. They all need safe and affordable housing, opportunities for meaningful work and work experience, and most importantly a community that accepts and welcomes their contribution. The collaborative approach to capturing these opportunities from all levels of government and the sector that has been evident in recent years is a positive step. However, more long-term planning and investment is needed.

Australia must also continue to increase its investment in borderless education – online and face-to-face transnational delivery. Australia has great potential to leverage its existing reputation for quality education and training by developing technology-enabled, scalable education platforms. In 2015, Deloitte Access Economics and EduWorld estimated the potential market size for borderless education to be over one billion learners by 2025. If Australia captures even one per cent, it would equate to 11 million learners globally – and a 10 per cent share would exceed 110 million learners. It is an aspiration that requires “novel and adaptive thinking”.

This blog draws on the content in Chapter 2.1 of CEDA’s publication, Improving service sector productivity: the economic imperative.


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