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Fact Check. ICT Students. Malcolm Turnbull


In an interview with Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister on ABC 7.30 (7th December, 2015), Leigh Sales posed the following question:

Your innovation package gives businesses more capacity to poach good people from overseas and it will also allow some foreign students to stay in Australia rather than take the skills they acquire back home. What do you say to Australians who might grizzle at that and say “Hang on, they are taking Australian Jobs.”

Mr. Turnbull responded:

“That’s not right actually. You know, in the….take in the ICT area in postgraduate tech, if you like – computing sciences and so forth in universities – over three quarters of the students studying here are foreigners. So…we don’t have enough Australian’s studying ICT. We don’t have enough Australians, particularly Australian girls and women studying STEM subjects and computing related subjects generally.

The first point I would like to make is Malcolm Turnbull completely ignored the question regarding businesses attracting more foreign workers. However, I thought I would check the percentage of foreign student’s studying ICT in Australia. According to the 2014 Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2014 Student Data (Australian Federal Government), the percentage of foreign students studying postgraduate ICT (as the level of study targeted by the Prime Minister) is 41.60%. This is less than half. Not over three quarters as the Prime Minister claimed.

The percentage of foreign undergraduate students studying ICT is 27.17%. This is less than a third. The total percentage of foreign students studying postgraduate and undergraduate ICT is 32.77%. This is approximately one third.

The percentage of foreign students studying in Australia overall across all Broad Fields of Education (BFOE) is 25%. That is one quarter of students overall for all levels of study across all BFOE’s are foreign students. So it certainly is true that more foreign students are attracted to our ICT programs, but that is not necessarily a bad thing at all. This could speak to the quality of our programs, the quality of our academics or the lack of programs in other countries.

Approximately one third of PhD students studying to write their ICT thesis are foreign students. The progression from undergraduate to PhD is not fluid, as in many postgraduate research students, will not have necessarily studied their undergraduate degree in Australia.

Many foreign Research Higher Degree (RHD) students review Universities from all over the world to select their University. This should be a reflection of the high quality of ICT research supervisors and programs in Australia, rather than this statistic being framed in a way that not enough domestic students are studying ICT at this level. We actually should be boasting that our ICT programs are attracting foreign students.

An increase in domestic scholarships including a living stipend for domestic Research Higher Degree students could very well see even more domestic students progressing into PhD level studies in this area.

More serious funding for universities to establish well developed university led women in science and technology programs, including properly funded recruitment and mentoring positions and more funding to employ more women ICT academics, could see the increase of more women engaged in this area of study. A serious investment in funding casual or better still, permanent teaching positions to free up existing women academics to do research would also assist.

I found it peculiar that Mr. Turnbull identified specifically postgraduate students in his interview, where he should be focusing on encouraging more students to take up ICT at vocational and undergraduate levels, if we are indeed talking about developing the innovators of the future.

I also found the focus on postgraduate students puzzling if his aim is to increase women in this area, when it is highly unlikely that women will enter through direct entry into a postgraduate program, based on the assumption that they are not working in the field and have not studied this area before. Women should be encouraged to take up ICT programs at undergraduate level and recruitment to engage women and all students should start from primary school.

All of these things take a commitment of serious funding. Will Mr. Turnbull and the Liberal Party actually act in good conscience on this, when they have not taken the Gonski reforms seriously? Gonski was a serious innovation in education reform and sadly it was not implemented by the Liberal party as the experts recommended. Its kind of like putting salt in a cake instead of sugar. It is still called a cake and you can say you have a cake, but it is a pretty useless cake.

I have posted the statistics below. I believe Malcolm Turnbull’s claim that over three quarters of students studying ICT in Australian Universities are foreign students is possibly incorrect. This is going by the 2014 figures. Perhaps 2015 has seen a stark increase in foreign students in this area. The 2015 data is not public on the ABS website or the Department of Education and Training website to determine this.

Mr. Turnbull could certainly be correct, if the scenario was for example a small increase in domestic postgraduate students in 2015 and a very high increase of postgraduate foreign students. Nothing is impossible. I certainly do not have the resources of the Prime Minister, but this certainly was not the case in 2014.

I think it would be great if journalists and ABC Fact Check would start checking more Turnbull facts. My personal opinion (and the reason I thought I would check this out) is that Mr. Turnbull does palaver on quite a bit with a decent smattering of verbosity. I feel this is to give voters the illusion that he is quite knowledgeable, but that may not necessarily be the case.

Stats ict

Selected Higher Education Statistics – 2014 data – ICT

Originally published on



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  1. kerri

    They don’t call him Turnbulls**t for nothing!
    Good article Trish!

  2. Asif

    blah blah blah blah blah
    facts and figures.. so what.

    you think this will make any dyed-in-the-wool liberal voter change his mind? you want to make a change? a change to what? labor? we will still be stuffed. you are going about this all wrong.

    wrong wrong wrong.

  3. Roswell

    So, what ideas can you come up with?

  4. trishcorry

    I have sent this to ABC Fact Check. I hope they agree with my findings and/or do an actual fact check. I am getting frustrated that Turnbull seems to be able to say anything he pleases and no one questions it.

  5. cmshowell

    Many of the overseas ICT postgrads that I have come across are keen to open a restaurant…

  6. jim

    “Turnbull does palaver on quite a bit with a decent smattering of verbosity” Too right I wonder who gives him the list or should that be the lisp? Smart man? just look at our NBN he is replacing copper wire with more copper wire , smart man is he?

  7. Wally

    “we don’t have enough Australian’s studying ICT”

    What a load of bull shit!

    After spending 4 years retraining and becoming qualified as a Software Engineer and a Systems and/or Business Analyst with skills in many other areas I have never been employed in the industry. When I started IT studies in 2001 we were promised working from home was on the horizon, our studies would put us at the forefront of an exiting new industry with rapid growth.

    This may all be true if I lived in India. Australian companies that required IT workers soon worked out that it was just as easy (and much cheaper) to have people work for them from off shore locations as it is to have Australians work from home. As well as limiting local employment opportunities it has also been very effective at keeping salaries of IT workers much lower than they should be.

    We still have a stronghold in ICT education but the skilled workforce that make most major websites and mainstream applications for financial institutions and newspapers is off shore. So I would like Mr Turnbull to show me where all the Australian IT jobs are!

  8. Asif

    @ roswell..

    when I post my ideas, you censor them. I guess because you dont agree with what I say, can not argue against the facts, and simply find it easier to delete my comments rather than argue the points.

    you mob here seem to simply delight in a continual stream of hand wringing and whinging, as if that itself is the solution to all our problems. get rid of the Lib?nats and everything will be alright? You dont like what I suggest, but you suggest nothing yourselves. just complain, complain, complain.

  9. Möbius Ecko


    blah blah blah blah blah
    facts and figures.. so what.

    you think this will make any dyed-in-the-wool liberal voter change his mind? you want to make a change? a change to what? labor? we will still be stuffed. you are going about this all wrong.

    wrong wrong wrong.

    Isn’t that post nothing more than a whinge?

    Then there’s the contradiction. “…can not argue against facts…”, but in the first post, “…facts and figures.. so what.”

    As to changing a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal or Labor or Greens or any core ideological supporter, they as a rule are never changed by anything, let alone facts and reality. No party targets them for change, especially the party they unwavering support, who nearly always take them for granted often to the detriment of the supporters.

    Where the change occurs is in the ~20% and increasing swing voters and those of an ideological moderate political view. They exist in the major parties as well but are often suppressed and even deliberately undermined, as happened with the NSW Liberals, which allowed Labor to rule for several terms to the detriment of the State.

    As to the last nonsensical spray, the less said the better. Take some time and read what’s posted here, including the myriad of facts and criticisms of all sides of politics, including the valid criticism of the political system itself. I don’t see this as complaining or whinging.

  10. JeffJL

    Good luck (said without sarcasm) getting it into the fact checkers. Let us know any responses.

  11. totaram

    After his performance on the NBN, you should question everything said by this snake-oil salesman. He is still lying about the NBN and will continue to do so right to the end. All the techies have dubbed it a “fraud-band” and the evidence for that view continues to grow.

  12. Sen Nearly Ile

    sales must have done a good job on turnball. the sunrise autocue economist said ‘can the ABC get away ‘with disrespecting the pm’?.
    Just got my NBN connected the two you men were lovely 457 visa kids a turkish kurd and an iranian. It looked like one was teaching the other.
    canberra pollies???? ignorant, disingenuous or self-centred ars….es

  13. Anj

    I’m an Australian woman studying postgraduate IT, academicaly performing in top 5% of the university. By observation it appears that 3/4 are international students. 90% are men. Previously the government offered scholarships to Australian women studying in non-traditional fields, but that funding was cut, and there is basically no IT postgrad scholarships I can apply for. I sincerely hope Turnbull innovation package will include Scholarships.

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