Dean Forbes




IEAA/LH Martin Institute

Executive Leadership and Management in International Education

Module 2, Adelaide, 26 August 2010

Professor Dean Forbes

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International & Communities)

Flinders University


The Flinders University Victoria Square venue for this leadership program has a strong resonance with the theme of this session.  It was built by the Commonwealth government and was formerly known as the Reserve Bank Building.  On the 6th floor there remains the Cabinet room, where the Federal Cabinet would meet from time to time.  It is preserved under heritage legislation.

The building to the immediate south is the State Administration Centre.  It is the home of the Premier and his Department of Premier and Cabinet. Immediately to the north, just beyond the Medina Treasury Hotel is the Town Hall, where the Lord Mayor has his office.  Next door to us on the eastern side is the Department of Education and Childrens Services. 

Why does Flinders, which has a substantial campus nestled in the foothills about 10 kilometres to the south, have offices and teaching space here? Two reasons, it gives us access to a different student market, and it is the physical presence that enables us to build our visibility and relationships with the state and federal governments and the Adelaide City Council.  It is the product of a strategic decision.  Relationships with government and lobbying are critical to the successful functioning of the modern Australian university.

I am going to use a case study approach.  I will tell you four stories, each based on my own experience, about what I have discovered about how, and how not, to lobby governments.  The first two stories are about engagement with government inquiries and reviews.  The second two case studies are about working with peak bodies to shape government actions.

Importantly, I want you to contribute to this session by sharing ideas at three points in the presentation.  I don’t believe relationship building and enhancing influence are guided by a precise science; on the contrary, we have most to gain by critically assessing our experiences, and sharing insights. In preparation I ask you to think of a specific example, good or bad, of seeking to exert influence over a government decision.


I want to start by outlining the context in which my case studies will sit.  I just can’t resist some conceptualisation at the start of a presentation.

You will all be familiar with the argument that Australian universities have engaged in international education since the early 1950s in three waves.  Each of these waves made new demands on the leaders of international education.  These are summarised in Table 1.


Main Feature of International Education and Leadership Skill Needs


Wave 1


Government scholarship students eg Columbo Plan

Leadership Skills


Government managed the scholarships

Universities mainstreamed the students


Wave 2

Late 1980s

Significant focus on international student recruitment and management

Transnational education programs

Leadership Skills

Marketing and student recruitment

Encouraging Government to support student recruitment – Study in Australia brand, student visas


Wave 3

Beginning around 2005-08

Diversified agenda:

International student recruitment and welfare

Transnational education programs

Student mobility and WIL

International research collaboration

International capacity development projects

Collaborative international university networks

Leadership Skills

Business planning

Marketing and recruitment

International student welfare

Project management

Relationship/ network building


Wave 3

Lobbying and influencing policy

Engagement with Federal, State and Local governments:

•    International student policy and quality assurance (AEI/DEEWR)

•    Student recruitment (Austrade; AEI; some State govts; some local govts)

•    Scholarship students (AusAID)

•    Immigration (DIAC; State govts)

•    Student welfare and safety (all levels of government)

•    Research collaboration (DIISR)

•    International relations, foreign policy and trade policy (DFAT)

•    National security (Defence, DFAT)

•    Council of Australian Governments (COAG)


•    Foreign governments (Embassy staff, govt departments)

•    European Union, World Bank, Asian Development Bank


Third wave internationalisation activities occur at a much larger scale than ever before.  The significant economic impact of international students is ample evidence of that.  But, in parallel, the international education agenda has become more diverse and complex.  It requires international education leaders to have a broader range of skills and experience.

This session, of course, is just going to focus on influencing public policy and relationship building with government.  There are a range of areas where governments have a significant role. These are summarised in the shaded areas of Table 1.

At the same time, the intensity of government engagement directly with international education has increased.  A recent example of governments being pro-active, though not always well-directed, is the response to the student safety issue.  Around a dozen inquiries were underway at one point, often with little consultation with the education sector.

It often happens that government policies and decisions have unintended consequences for international education.  A current example is student visa policies getting caught up in refugee, immigration and population issues.

Summing up my first major point, international education is expanding in size and complexity, and governments across the country are becoming more active in engaging in international education. Together, these factors are making new demands on leaders and our expectations of leaders.


1.    Who or what are the most important targets for lobbying, and why?

2.    Federal government?  State government?  Local government?

3.    What other institutions in Australia have, or could have, a significant influence on international education?


My first two case studies are about influencing government policy by responding to government-initiated reviews of public policy.  Usually these reviews call for public submissions, and so it is possible to make a submission as an individual.

Case Study 1: International Development Assistance

My first case study looks not at international education but at international development assistance.  The two are, of course, connected, but I will start with this case study because I think it demonstrates some important points that are applicable to international education, and had a real impact on me.

Throughout the 1980s I was a Senior Research Fellow in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the ANU. The incoming Hawke Labor Government had appointed a committee to review the Australian overseas aid program. The Jackson Report, as it was called, was released in 1984. 

I, and a number of my colleagues, believed the Jackson Report shifted the focus of Australia’s aid program too far away from a poverty alleviation orientation, and towards a more professional and stream-lined approach to aid, but with a significant connection to enhancing Australia’s trade prospects.

In response to the Jackson Report, Doug Porter, Phillip Eldridge and I (Eldridge, Forbes and Porter 1986) edited a book that was highly critical of the Report for this perceived shift in the character of the aid program.  We were particularly concerned that the focus of Australian aid had shifted away from its previous concentration on humanitarian issues.

Then in 1986-87 I took two years leave from the ANU to work in the new ADAB – the Australian Development Assistance Bureau – one of the fore-runners to AusAID.  ADAB was in the process of re-inventing itself, implementing the main findings of the Jackson Report.

I was therefore working in ADAB when our book was released.  Australian Overseas Aid: Future Directions, as our book was called, received major press coverage in a prominent news magazine written by, ironically, the brother of a current Vice-Chancellor.  The headline read ‘billion dollar aid bungle’ and the article used the book as an instrument to rip into ADAB. 

The day the article appeared I was standing in ADAB in Canberra waiting for the lift.  The doors opened, and before me was ADAB’s Director-General and several of the most senior staff. They were on their way to a crisis meeting to discuss the press report of the book. They glared at me as if I were a Russian spy.  Promotions were impossible to get from then onwards. 

ADAB of course continued to implement the Jackson Report’s recommendations with alacrity.  I returned to the ANU in early 1988 far wiser about the subtleties of the policy dialogue between universities and government.

Incidentally, among the Jackson Report’s recommendations was the creation of what we called export-oriented education through the opening up of the universities and other education institutions to fee-paying international students. 

My colleagues and I were sceptical of the recommendation.  Collectively we thought it would cause ‘rigidities and distortions’ in the pattern of educational aid.  Besides, I thought not many international students would be able, or want, to afford a full cost university education in Australia.

I clearly was wrong.  Moreover, to rub salt into the wound, I have been closely involved in, and a committed supporter of, fee-paying international education for the last 15 years.

There is one more aspect of the story.  The Jackson Report was delivered to, and supported by, a Labor government.

After the fall of the Keating Labor government in 1996, the Howard government assumed office.  It also decided to review the Australian aid program, and called for submissions.  I was sceptical about the reception my views would receive from a conservative government, still believing that aid should have a much stronger poverty orientation than the then Australian program.

However, I decided to make a submission to the Review. It certainly wasn’t going to be a book.  Instead I opted for a four page submission setting out the case for a re-directing of the aid program.  I drew upon the ideas from a decade earlier, but I intended it as an engaging overview piece that I thought at least someone on the Committee of Review might actually read. 

There were 250 written submissions to the Review Committee, but just 57, or one in five, were invited to talk with the Committee. I was one of those invited to meet the Committee on its visit to Adelaide.  I can’t remember much about the discussion, other than it was disarmingly positive, and that Cliff Walsh, one of the three member review panel, was head of the SA Centre for Economic Studies, and held a concurrent appointment with both Flinders and Adelaide University.

The Simons Report was submitted to the responsible Minister, Alexander Downer, in May 1997.  It advocated a single major objective for Australia’s development assistance: the alleviation of poverty in the Asia-Pacific region.

To be candid, I was amazed on two counts.  First, that a Review established by a conservative government would lead to this kind of Report focused directly on poverty. Second, I was gob-smacked about how similar its thrust was to what I had said in my short paper. 

I have no way of judging how important my views were in influencing the Committee, and I never bothered to follow-up.  I suspect my arguments fell on fertile ground, and were seen as supporting what the Committee was intending to say.  Nevertheless, the experience of contributing to the reviews in 1986 and 1997 have had a big impact on me and the way I approach government relations.  I will come back to that shortly.

Case Study 2: The Bradley Report

My second case  study is the 2009 Review of Higher Education, or as it is better known, the Bradley Report.  The review was commissioned by the Rudd government and it focused on Australian higher education in general.  By and large the universities were supportive of the thrust of the Report. 

This contrasted with the response to earlier reports such as the West Report, delivered in 1998 at the request of the Howard government.  The West Report was largely ignored by both the government and the sector.  Interestingly, one of the West Report’s core recommendations, student centred funding for universities, was embraced by the Rudd and Gillard governments.

There are two differences between the Bradley and West Reports that should be noted.  First, Roderick West was a private high school principal; Denise Bradley a former vice-chancellor.  Universities generally prefer one of their own running major reviews.  Second, West delivered to a Liberal government, Bradley to a Labor government.  In my view, if you weigh up these two points,  the background knowledge and skills of the Chair is more important than the government in power when it comes to reviews of higher education.

The Bradley Committee held a meeting in Adelaide with about a dozen invitees in the middle of 2008.  The topic of discussion at one point turned to international education, and it subsequently became a major focus of the meeting.  The Chair made the point that most of the submissions being made about international education, and the verbal presentations in the consultations, dwelled on the negatives of growing numbers of international students.  Disgruntled members of the community, international students and university staff were all having their say.

After the meeting I spoke with Denise Bradley.  She re-iterated the point about the negative tone of the written submissions on international education, and suggested that I send in a submission focussing on the positives that we had discussed in the meeting.  I thought it was a good idea, but I thought she probably said that at all the hearings.

About three weeks later I received a phone call from the Review Secretariat.  Do you have a copy of the paper you presented at the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia Roundtable? In August 2008, shortly after the meetings in Adelaide, I had written and presented a four page paper on directions for the future of international education.  It was on my website, so I sent them the URL. 

A number of the points in the paper were taken up, and some were cited, in the Bradley Report’s chapter on international education. 

The Lessons of the Jackson, Simon and Bradley Reviews

The Jackson Report debacle:

1.    Be very careful about how you communicate your ideas to the press. Your future will not count for much if it stands between a journalist and a good story.

2.    Try and think through the full ramifications of the issue that you intend to criticise, particularly those issues that are tangential to your main interests.

3.    This is a no-brainer. Don’t publicly criticise government if you plan to work in a government.

The Simons Report:

1.    If you make a submission to a review, always write short, crisp documents that stand on their own merits; if you must include a long report, make it an appendix.

The Bradley Review:

1.    Always lobby for a review chair with a background in higher education

2.    Don’t assume someone else will have already made the points you want to make, and therefore you do not need to contribute either verbally or in writing.

3.    Submissions to reviews should always be short and succinct, and for preference have a positive, enabling focus that help review committees express their ideas.

4.    If asked by the chair of a review committee to put in a written submission, do so.

Points for Discussion

1.    Peak bodies put in many submissions to reviews. Do individuals need to?

2.    Who has written, or been part of, a submission to a government review? How did it go?


In the next two case studies I want to talk about the role of peak bodies in international education in Australia. There are a number. The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) represents the profession as a whole, if you like.  And there are organizations representing different sectors.  The Australian Council of Private Education and Training (ACPET), TAFE Directors Australia, and English Australia are three of the better known groups.  There is also ISANA and NEAS.

Australian universities are represented by Universities Australia (UA).  The Australian Universities International Directors Forum (AUIDF) is another important voice on international education.

Case Study 3: Universities Australia and the DVC I Committee

UA, and its predecessor, the Australian Universities Vice-Chancellors Committee (AVCC) is the main voice of the universities. UA is based in Canberra, and operates through an Executive Committee and a Plenary, attended by Vice-Chancellors and their representatives. 

Under its previous Chief Executive, John Mullarvey, the AVCC took a rather strong, and often belligerent, approach to government relations.  The formation of UA in 2007 saw a shift in direction.  The emphasis moved to trying to work with government on shaping the policy agenda.  Glenn Withers, who had worked in both government and universities, was appointed Chief Executive.

UA has three focused committees, one of which is the DVC I Committee.  The DVC I Committee first met in 1998, and generally meets twice, and occasionally three times, a year, usually in Canberra.  Peter Coaldrake, Vice-Chancellor of QUT, is both Chair of UA, and UA’s lead Vice-Chancellor on international issues.  Jennie Lang from UNSW is current Chair of the DVC I Committee.  

There are two channels of influence open to the DVC I Committee.  The first is through the UA Executive and the lead Vice-Chancellor.  This is the primary pathway for engaging with Ministers and Heads of government departments; the Vice-Chancellors feel they do this best.  The second is through direct action by the members, or the Executive, of the DVC I Committee. 

The DVC I executive group is a channel for contributing to UA submissions to government reviews and inquiries, of which there are a large number, especially in the last two or so years. 

Representatives from key federal government departments regularly attend DVC I meetings. 

•    AEI;

•    DIAC staff responsible for both student visas and skilled immigration;

•    Austrade, from the beginning of this year;

•    AusAID (scholarship students);

•    DFAT (international relations);

•    Defence (eg sanctions legislation).

UA also has a seat on a cross-sector semi-formal consultative group on international education comprising UA, TDA, ACPET, EA and IEAA.  I attended several meetings over the years.  This has never been a particularly successful grouping.

The particular case I want to refer to is the response to the string of events that commenced with the assaults on Indian students in Melbourne in May 2009, and the subsequent demonstration by students against the incidents. 

The DVC I Committee pursued several key responses:

•    Supporting a UA press statement

•    The release of a UA discussion paper on improving the international student experience

•    Drafting a 10 point strategy for universities on improving international student welfare

•    Lobbying AEI about ways to deal with the consequences of the safety issue

•    Consultations with Bruce Baird who had been charged with revising the ESOS Act

•    Lunch for the Canberra diplomatic community, with special attention to the High Commissioner from India (June, 2009 and February, 2010)

How effective have universities responses been to the crisis?  In my judgement, in general universities have done well in ensuring that their own houses are in order, and are seen to be in order. 

However, we have made almost no headway in influencing the government response to the initial concerns about student safety, or about protecting the international reputation of Australian education in general. At the same time the universities have had very little impact on DIACs changes to migration rules.  And during the recent election campaign both main parties decision to support reductions in migration, regardless of the impact on international education, signalled the failure of the whole sector to convey the importance of international education to political leaders.

The National International Student Strategy, which has been due for release for several months, has still not been released.  Because there was limited consultation with universities it is hard to predict what its impact will be on government.

With the benefit of hindsight, the DVC I Committee should probably have done more prior to 2009. We all knew of the catastrophic impact Chinese student concerns had had on New Zealand’s reputation as a host for international students in 2003.  We were aware of the violent incidents in Melbourne and had met with the Victorian Police in 2008 to draw attention to student safety concerns.  We were aware of the growing number of calls for action with regards to student welfare expressed in the second half of 2008 and into 2009.  And we also knew that the rapid growth of VET students in several states was a threat to the long-term sustainability of international education.

Case Study 4: Education Adelaide

Education Adelaide is a partnership between the South Australian state government, the Adelaide City Council, and Flinders University, the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia. It was established in 1998.  All the partners contribute financially to Education Adelaide, but the State Government’s contribution is the largest, and represents about half the total budget.

Four state government departments are represented on the Board by their chief officers: Education and Children’s Services (DECS); Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST); Trade and Economic Development (DTED); and the SA Tourism Commission (SATC).  Education Adelaide reports to the Minister for Employment, Training and Further Education, and the Premier also takes an active interest in it.

Education Adelaide provides a framework that enables two tiers of government and the universities to work together to address a range of issues associated with international education.  Essentially it has been a very effective voice for international education in South Australia.

It has the ear of government.  It reports directly to one Minister, and is occasionally requested to meet with the Premier, or the Treasurer, or provide a progress report to the Executive Committee of Cabinet. 

It lobbies Government on particular issues, beginning with the Government funding for the consortium, which has held up even when major cost-cutting has occurred.  It has achieved success in removing the requirement for international research students to pay school fees for their children.  It has been influential in ensuring that international visits by senior politicians support university alumni and other university projects.  And it has provided a forum for direct discussions about the quality issues associated the international student programs of some private VET providers.

It has also limitations.  Ministers, and senior public servants, are inclined to see Education Adelaide as an arm of Government.  Therefore it is not an affective lobby for causes not supported by Government.  An example is the State Strategic Plan, which requires South Australia to double its share of international students by 2014.  The universities have opposed this goal because of infrastructure limitations, and the need to focus on sustainable growth of international education.  Education Adelaide has not been able to broker a revision of this target.

Lessons from Universities Australia and Education Adelaide:

1.    Identifying future risks is one thing, acting to minimise the likelihood of catastrophic events is another.

2.    Having a framework that enables a regular involvement of heads of government departments in international education is invaluable.

3.    Building links with middle and senior level government people is essential. The confrontation model is seldom effective.


1.    When the government imposed a resources rent tax on the mining industry, the industry response caused the government to backdown.  Why can’t the universities achieve this kind of outcome?

2.    When do you confront government? When do you opt for a collaborative approach?

3.    Who has a good example of universities lobbying effectively for an important change in government policy?

4.    Do we spend enough/about right/too much time on lobbying activities?


Baird Report (Australian Government) 2010 Stronger, simpler, smarter ESOS: supporting international students. Review of the Education Services for Students (ESOS) Act 2000, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Bradley Report (Australian Government) 2009 Review of Higher Education, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Eldridge, Philip, Dean Forbes and Doug Porter (eds) 1986 Australian Overseas Aid: Future Directions, Croom Helm, Sydney and London.

Forbes, Dean 2008 “Policy Frameworks and Settings. Regional and Global Perspectives for University Sector Policy”. Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia University Policy Futures Roundtable, Academy of Science Shine Dome, Canberra.

Jackson Report (Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program) 1984 Report of the Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Simons Report (Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program) 1997 One Clear Objective. Poverty Reduction Through Sustainable Development. Report of the Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

West Report (Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy), 1998 Learning for Life. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. <>