Reflecting on 20 years of AAERI

Rahul Gandhi, president of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India, reflects on the association’s history as is celebrates its 20th anniversary.

While I was a student in Australia 20 years ago, AAERI was born at the Australian High commission, New Delhi, as the brainchild of Prof Tom Calma and the founder AAERI members. For any child, the initial 5 years are important as these define his character. Similarly for AAERI, the initial 5 years were important. It was because of hand holding by the Australian High commission, New Delhi, that AAERI was able to crawl, walk and eventually stand on its own feet. Today, the child has grown into an adult and AAERI is a proud Indian association which operates within the framework of the ESOS act of Australia & AAERI’s code of ethics. For AAERI, Australia is its soul and India is its heart.

“For AAERI, Australia is its soul and India is its heart”

I am proud to say that Australia not only provides education but also a new life to international students. For an Indian student, education is an investment of time, effort and resources, and Indian parents start saving resources from the day the child is born. This is where AAERI has played a significant role. It makes sure that the AAERI members are not only certified but also abide by the code of ethics and have gone through background checks.

Its 20th year is time to take a pause and travel down memory lane and, at the same time, visualise the future too.

The last 20 years have been eventful. I’m reminded of the student mugging issues of 2008-09. The Indian media was hostile and while we awaited the reaction from the Australian government; senior AAERI members such as Mr. Ravi Lochan Singh, Mr. Gulshan Kumar and Mr. Naveen Chopra did several press conferences across the country and were engaging the student fraternity. They were also promoting Australia as a study destination.

In the past, there were collaborative efforts by Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK for the ethical recruitment of International students. This is popularly know as the London Statement, and AAERI has welcomed such statements. In the past, AAERI has made a number of submissions in the interest of Australian education. AAERI also had a meeting with the Honourable Michael Knight before he released the Student Visa Program Review. In August 2015, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, then the Minister of Education, during his visit to India acknowledged the role of AAERI in the internationalisation of the Australian education sector.

Pressing issues

Currently, there are four issues which concern the industry at large:

1. Issues related to service tax

Service tax may or may not be applicable on inward remittances. This is a complex problem and it will compound with the introduction of GST from April 2017. Service tax, which is currently at 15%, is likely to go up to 20% with the introduction of GST. AAERI has been in consultation with the senior lawyers from the Supreme court of India.

2. Course hopping,  also know as Waka Jumping

AAERI is of the view that ESOS act needs to review the policy on commission payments to onshore agents. In the US, commission payments to onshore agents are banned and maybe Australia needs to explore in that direction. This ban would protect and safeguard the Australian education export ndustry – one of the largest and most prospective industries in Australia.

3. Role of careers services

ROI does matter to the Indian students. Australian education providers are excellent in imparting education; however, there is a need for careers services to provide realistic services. These days, students are interested in knowing the work opportunities back in Asia. Career services need to market graduates and establish links with Asian companies.

4. Guidelines of the Association of Indian Universities

There are some courses offered by overseas education providers which are not recognised by the Indian government equivalent system, including: 1) master’s courses lasting one year, and 2) pathway programmes, diploma leading degree courses. AAERI has made submissions to the Indian Ministry of HRD to reconsider these guidelines.

Looking to the future

As part of our 20th year celebration, AAERI will be hosting a gathering for engaging the International Directors of Australian education providers – details will be shared soon in a few days’ time. AAERI will also be hosting various events within India, promoting Australian education.

By AAERI’s 25th anniversary, I would like to see AAERI as a global brand in promoting the Australian education and regulating the agents’ fraternity from the Indian subcontinent. AAERI is the only successful model of self-regulation and other countries such as NZ, the UK, Canada and the USA have taken inspiration from AAERI.

As AAERI, I guarantee that we will work in the interest of the students going to Australia & will continue to reform which is in the interest of the Australian Education brand.

Before I end, I want to thank the guest of honour at our celebrations, Australian High commissioner to India, Her Excellency Ms. Harinder Sidhu & the Chief guest – Chancellor of University of Canberra, Prof Tom Calma & his family for accepting the invitation. I want to thank & acknowledge the role of Department of Education & Training, Department of Immigration & Border protection and Austrade for the support & encouragement to AAERI over a period of years. I also want to thank the Sponsors Vodafone Australia, NIB Health funds and Pearsons Test of English – Academic for believing in the AAERI and supporting the 20th year anniversary. I also want to thank my AAERI executives for bringing this event together.

The biggest achievement for AAERI in 20 years is it survivals for such a long time and that too with number of reforms which protects the interest of the students going to Australia and the Australian education brand. I have seen number of associations which perish within first five years and AAERI has survived for 20 years and that itself is an achievement considering that all AAERI members are competitors at the end of the day. AAERI is always thankful to the support & encouragement which we have received from Department of Education & Training, Department of Immigration & boarder protection and Austrade. For AAERI, Australia is its sole and India is it heart.