Melbourne: Australia, on Monday announced annual education talks with India after a wave of attacks and scams targeting students from the country put a multi-billion dollar industry under threat.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, speaking after a trip to India, also said Australia would explore options for local universities setting up campuses in the giant South Asian country.
“This is a big opportunity for Australia in circumstances where India has a huge thirst to grow its education system,” she told public broadcaster ABC.
Gillard said the talks would help mitigate the damage to Australia’s lucrative education industry after a series of muggings and beatings drew protests in Melbourne and Sydney and sparked outrage in India.
During her trip, Gillard said Australia had “zero tolerance” toward attacks on Indian students and stressed that the nation was “a culturally diverse, welcoming, safe country”.
She said Indian authorities, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had accepted her reassurances and agreed to hold annual bilateral talks on education issues.
Australia plays host to about 95,000 Indian students a year who are part of a $12.7 billion industry, the country’s third largest export.
“I actually was able to strike a positive agreement with the Indian government that we will have a annual ministerial dialogue on education,” she said, adding that business and university representatives would take part.
Gillard’s visit was part of an apparent diplomatic charm offensive to restore Australia’s image in India, with Treasurer Wayne Swan due to make a short visit this week and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expected later in the year.
Police patrols have been increased as part of a series of measures aimed at stopping the attacks, which strained ties between New Delhi and Canberra as India demanded protection for its students.
Authorities have also vowed to weed out dodgy operators and migration agents after revelations foreign students were falling victim to sub-standard courses and visa scams.