In an interview with Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister on ABC 7.30 (7th December, 2015), Leigh Sales posed the following question:
Your innovation package gives businesses more capacity to poach good people from overseas and it will also allow some foreign students to stay in Australia rather than take the skills they acquire back home. What do you say to Australians who might grizzle at that and say “Hang on, they are taking Australian Jobs.”
Mr. Turnbull responded:
“That’s not right actually. You know, in the….take in the ICT area in postgraduate tech, if you like – computing sciences and so forth in universities – over three quarters of the students studying here are foreigners. So…we don’t have enough Australian’s studying ICT. We don’t have enough Australians, particularly Australian girls and women studying STEM subjects and computing related subjects generally.
The first point I would like to make is Malcolm Turnbull completely ignored the question regarding businesses attracting more foreign workers. However, I thought I would check the percentage of foreign student’s studying ICT in Australia. According to the 2014 Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2014 Student Data (Australian Federal Government), the percentage of foreign students studying postgraduate ICT (as the level of study targeted by the Prime Minister) is 41.60%. This is less than half. Not over three quarters as the Prime Minister claimed.
The percentage of foreign undergraduate students studying ICT is 27.17%. This is less than a third. The total percentage of foreign students studying postgraduate and undergraduate ICT is 32.77%. This is approximately one third.
The percentage of foreign students studying in Australia overall across all Broad Fields of Education (BFOE) is 25%. That is one quarter of students overall for all levels of study across all BFOE’s are foreign students. So it certainly is true that more foreign students are attracted to our ICT programs, but that is not necessarily a bad thing at all. This could speak to the quality of our programs, the quality of our academics or the lack of programs in other countries.
Approximately one third of PhD students studying to write their ICT thesis are foreign students. The progression from undergraduate to PhD is not fluid, as in many postgraduate research students, will not have necessarily studied their undergraduate degree in Australia.
Many foreign Research Higher Degree (RHD) students review Universities from all over the world to select their University. This should be a reflection of the high quality of ICT research supervisors and programs in Australia, rather than this statistic being framed in a way that not enough domestic students are studying ICT at this level. We actually should be boasting that our ICT programs are attracting foreign students.
An increase in domestic scholarships including a living stipend for domestic Research Higher Degree students could very well see even more domestic students progressing into PhD level studies in this area.
More serious funding for universities to establish well developed university led women in science and technology programs, including properly funded recruitment and mentoring positions and more funding to employ more women ICT academics, could see the increase of more women engaged in this area of study. A serious investment in funding casual or better still, permanent teaching positions to free up existing women academics to do research would also assist.
I found it peculiar that Mr. Turnbull identified specifically postgraduate students in his interview, where he should be focusing on encouraging more students to take up ICT at vocational and undergraduate levels, if we are indeed talking about developing the innovators of the future.
I also found the focus on postgraduate students puzzling if his aim is to increase women in this area, when it is highly unlikely that women will enter through direct entry into a postgraduate program, based on the assumption that they are not working in the field and have not studied this area before. Women should be encouraged to take up ICT programs at undergraduate level and recruitment to engage women and all students should start from primary school.
All of these things take a commitment of serious funding. Will Mr. Turnbull and the Liberal Party actually act in good conscience on this, when they have not taken the Gonski reforms seriously? Gonski was a serious innovation in education reform and sadly it was not implemented by the Liberal party as the experts recommended. Its kind of like putting salt in a cake instead of sugar. It is still called a cake and you can say you have a cake, but it is a pretty useless cake.
I have posted the statistics below. I believe Malcolm Turnbull’s claim that over three quarters of students studying ICT in Australian Universities are foreign students is possibly incorrect. This is going by the 2014 figures. Perhaps 2015 has seen a stark increase in foreign students in this area. The 2015 data is not public on the ABS website or the Department of Education and Training website to determine this.
Mr. Turnbull could certainly be correct, if the scenario was for example a small increase in domestic postgraduate students in 2015 and a very high increase of postgraduate foreign students. Nothing is impossible. I certainly do not have the resources of the Prime Minister, but this certainly was not the case in 2014.
I think it would be great if journalists and ABC Fact Check would start checking more Turnbull facts. My personal opinion (and the reason I thought I would check this out) is that Mr. Turnbull does palaver on quite a bit with a decent smattering of verbosity. I feel this is to give voters the illusion that he is quite knowledgeable, but that may not necessarily be the case.