The agreement was signed in Melbourne between Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard and India's Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal. India and Australia have identified "the safety and wellbeing of students" as a matter of "high priority" in the bilateral efforts to build a broad partnership. It comes after a spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne strained relations between the two countries.
Presenter: Stephanie March
Julia Gillard, Australia's Education Minister; Kapil Sibal, India's Human Resource Development Minister; Gautam Gupta, spokesman for the Federation of Indian Students of Australia
MARCH: It is important agreement for what Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says is an important sector.
GILLARD: There is nothing more important to links between nations than links on education because they grow people to people links and understanding.
MARCH: Ms Gillard says the joint ministerial statement signed by herself and India's Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal is aimed at deepening educational ties and setting up a joint council to look at education related issues between the two countries. While the statement didn't out line many details about how the two countries will collaborate, the offer of training possibilities for Indian teachers comes amid a massive overhaul of the country's education sector. India's government earlier this month enacted the Right to Education act. It brings India in line with 130 other nations that guarantee the government will provide free and compulsory schooling to primary age children. Minister Sibal says implementing the act however will mean training up to 800-thousand teachers.
SIBAL: We have a shortfall, but that shortfall will be filled up by people who may not have the qualifications to date but will have to acquire them in the next five years.
MARCH: The Indian government is also trying to expand its own higher education sector. At the moment, only 12.4 per cent of students eligible to pursue higher education are able to find places at Indian universities and colleges.
SIBAL: And the challenge is to increase to gross enrolment ratio from 12.4 to 30 percent by 2020 which means increasing this 20 million to around 60 million. So 40 more million children will go to college by 2020.
MARCH: That means setting up around 800 new universities and 50,000 colleges.
SIBAL: We can't do it on our own, no government can do it on it's own. So we need collaborations with other governments, we need collaborations with foreign education providers, with industry at home. It is in that context we are reaching out to the rest of the world and saying here is an opportunity.
MARCH: India's education problems extend far beyond its own borders. Indian students studying in Australia have been subject to violent attacks and found themselves falling victim to problematic education providers who have been unable to give students the services they pay for. The attacks prompted the Indian government to issue a travel advisory warning students against coming to Australia. Despite the spirit of cooperation on show at the agreement signing ceremony in Melbourne, Minister Sibal wouldn't be drawn on wether or not that advisory remains in place.
SIBAL: As far as the advisory it was given in Feburary, students are still coming to Australia, and we have not prevented them to coming to Australia, right? So we do believe both sides cognisant of the problems Indian students are facing. I think the Australian government is taking strong steps in that direction to prevent those things happening.
MARCH: It's on this issue of student safety and education quality that some industry groups say the agreement doesn't go far enough. Gautam Gupta is the spokesman for the Federation of Indian Students of Australia.
GUPTA: "As an Australian I think it's a great agreement. For Australia it is good. It is good for Australian economy. From an Indian point of view I think they should have... Indian government should have asked for more safety and safeguards for their students in Australia. Safety from fear and safety from fraud".