In August 2015, I was appointed Australia’s inaugural Ambassador to India on Education, by the Department of Education and Training in the government of Australia. This was a move to strengthen Australia’s education ties with India, and to ensure that Australia continues to be seen as a high-quality provider of education. I was very excited and very honoured about my new role and welcomed the challenges ahead of it. Since the appointment, I undertook two visits to India, and I am visiting again between June 19-20.
In the past few years, I have seen first-hand the vital role that education plays in the development of modern India. The role has given me the opportunity to put so much back into that relationship through the all-important focus of learning and training. Australia has a world-class education system, and the two countries have much to gain through the sharing of academics, students, infrastructure and best practices.
While we share a love of cricket — in fact, cricket is an important part of who we are — we also share a deep commitment to develop our education systems. Australia is very proud of our university strength globally, with six Australian universities in the top 100, around half in the world’s top 500, five out of 30 best student cities in the world, and 15 Nobel Prize laureates, all from a country of only 23 million people. We also have a world-class vocational education system that is closely linked to the needs of industry — a 2012 International Student Survey (ISS) found that 78 per cent of graduates were employed approximately six months after completing their training.
I would like to see Indians continue to take up opportunities in our system to further their careers through an Australian education. Equally, I would also like to see many more Australians undertaking studies in India. That’s what this partnership should be about — each country taking up the benefits and advantages the other offers. And it’s working. The 2014 ISS found that over 88 per cent of Indian students were satisfied with their overall educational experience in Australia, above the average of students from other countries.
Australia is a very welcoming country. It is a highly multicultural society, where people of all backgrounds are valued. In the 2014 ISS, Indian students also responded very positively on feeling safe and secure (92.5 per cent), the quality of accommodation (87 per cent) and the quality of lectures (89.6 per cent).
During my last few visits to India, I have visited schools, higher education institutions and skill providers. I’ve realised that both India and Australia want an education system that is truly relevant to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century — a system flexible enough to embrace new technologies, new ideas, new ways of learning.
We both want to strengthen our economies by creating opportunities which lead to jobs and growth. And we both want to nurture and grow meaningful people-to-people relationships that broaden our horizons and bring us closer together.
I am glad that both countries are diligently working together to achieve their goals. Already, we are sharing teaching and learning expertise between India and Australia. Under the New Colombo Plan, some 1800 Australian students will pursue internships and short programmes in India. Beyond this, we are delivering vocational and skills training to equip the workforce to meet the demands of the expanding economy. We see ourselves as a natural partner for India as it seeks to meet its challenges across the education sector, whether in schools, higher or vocational education, or research.
Personally, education plays a very important role in my life. Both my parents were teachers, so school and learning were a big part of my life from a very young age. I really enjoyed English and History, and learning about the different countries and cultures that inhabit our world. I had a great time at school and loved its social aspects, the interaction with my peers and teachers. Coming from rural New South Wales in Australia, there were always interesting schoolmates and teachers, from a diverse range of backgrounds, which really added to the overall educational experience.
In addition, I have always admired the beautiful culmination of sports with education. During my last visit to India, I was asked by a student what I would advise him and his friends who may want to make a career in unconventional fields, such as cricket, when their families might expect them to study for more conventional careers, like law or engineering. I told the student that as long as he is careful and methodical about how he approaches cricket, he should go for it.
It is never easy to juggle tertiary education with pursing a life as a professional cricketer or sportsperson — but it is certainly possible, and universities in both countries are now very accommodating in helping students continue their studies and combine their degrees with their sporting pursuits — certainly a lot more flexible than about 20 years ago.
Even if someone has to put their degree on hold for a period of time to achieve this, provided the motivation remains, they can always come back to finishing their studies at a later, more suitable point in time.
It has often been said that the two endeavours, learning and sport, share many common characteristics like dedication, motivation and self-discipline — I very much agree with that. I am very happy to be back at work here. Just to add, I love everything Indian. This remains a country I tour very often — even after my retirement from cricket.