MARCH, 2019

Bad education policies
Lack of STEM skills
The blame game

“The lack of access to talent is the single biggest factor draining the growth of the tech industry in Australia”.
Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian

Not a week passes when the topic of overseas students, local competition for jobs and a lack of people with IT skills doesn’t reach the papers.

What are the real issues behind the shallow headlines? How do the overseas students themselves see the issue? And how does this issue impact on Australia’s startup scene?

I spoke to an overseas student with a masters in technology who is struggling to find work in Melbourne and a startup who runs an internship program for overseas students, to help them find work.

Issue 1 – Australia has a failed education system

Australia’s academic standards have been sinking to the bottom of the OECD academic ratings for years. This is leaving many young people without the skills they need, to gain employment in the modern world.

Issues raised by academics and concerned politicians are –

  • Disruptive, disrespectful classrooms
  • A ‘dumbed down’ curriculum
  • Under qualified teachers
  • A lack of transparency about standards at different schools
  • An obsession with pushing social engineering and political correctness, while hard subjects like maths and science are being ignored.

The Australian education sector is a heavily unionised labor force.

“Australian teenagers’ reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.”
News.com December 2013

Issue 2 – Overseas students have become an easy income source for governments

Education is now Australia’s third largest export. Overseas students brought in 31.9 billion into the Australian economy last year. At some Universities overseas students make up over one quarter of the student population.

But this won’t tackle Australia technology skills shortage. Wouldn’t it be better to reform our schools and raise our poor academic standards?

Some overseas students are frustrated. Issues include –

  • Resentment about much more they are paying for the same course than local students
  • Not receiving value for their money, with issues around a ‘dumbed down’ curriculum that is not relevant to workplace
  • Difficulties gaining employment in Australia after study, with some HR departments viewing people on overseas visa’s as a liability.


Issue 3 – the Startup Perspective

Not being able to find staff with adequate workplace skills is one of the main concerns raised by both business and startups.

Baxter and Cannon-Brookes echo the sentiments of many other Australian startup founders in saying current challenges around talent acquisition and attracting skilled international workers are the biggest things holding back local innovation, with Baxter saying the amount of talent coming out of local unis doesn’t cut it.


“Current challenges around talent acquisition and attracting skilled international workers are the biggest things holding back local innovation.”

Rushabh Bhagat, Master’s Degree Computer Engineering

Story one – an overseas student’s perspective

I am from Ahmedabad, India and I come from a family where I have always been encouraged to pursue what I liked.

I decided to come to Melbourne after finishing my bachelor’s in computer engineering as there are much better learning opportunities and job prospects as compared to my hometown as well as my brother also lives in Melbourne.

I have since completed my Master’s Degree from Swinburne, but one of the thing which I realized was how hard it is for an international student to find a job in Australia.

“Even if I have the skill set required for a position, I won’t be considered as one of the job requirements would be Permanent Resident or Australian Citizen.”
Rushabh Bhagat, Master’s Degree Computer Engineering

It is really discouraging to realize that even after having the Australian degree and skills cant help me put my foot across the door to the interview.

Hopefully the government changes the immigration laws which encourages the companies to hired skilled graduates regardless of the visa they are on.

Story two – Gerard Holland, founder of Outcome Life

There are three barriers for overseas students –

  • A lack of personal networks in Australia, this is a major issue
  • Business are greedy. They want experience and a degree but don’t want to make the effort to train up graduates
  • Work experience is biased towards hiring locals

Upcoming event – information for overseas students at Swinburne University

8th May


Australia’s poor education levels

League table UNICEF – Country performance across nine child relevant performances
Program of International Student Assessment – OECD
Why Australia is in danger of becoming Asia’s digital banana republic – Business Insider October 2015
Six ways Australia’s education system is failing our kids – The Conversation March 2015
It looks like some Australians really are getting left behind by changes in the jobs market, and it’s a problem – Business Insider November 2018

Overseas students

What skill shortage? Why Aussie startups should invest in university talent – Smart Company April 2019
VicWize – Victorian Working Group on International Student Employability
Outcome Life
International Students inject $32 billion a year into Australia’s economy – The Voice of Australian Universities
Enrollment solutions – Do international students see Australian Universities Tuition Fees as a good value for money?
University fees: what students pay in deregulated markets – Grattan Institute
Australia hosting unprecedented numbers of international students –  ABC April 2018

The startup perspective

Mike Cannon-Brooks ‘radical’ idea for fixing Australia’s tech skills shortage – Smart Company January 2018
Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes urges government action to deal with ‘massive job disruption’ on the horizon – Smart Company March 2018