July 25, 2016
Source: The Daily Telegraph
Author: Tim Williams
25th July 2016
I’m an optimist. I believe elections can be great platforms for the big national debates we need to have. While they can easily degenerate into shallow sloganising and embarrassing pork-barrelling, and we saw far too much of both in the recent campaign, they can also provide deep opportunities for a mature conversation on things that matter.
One topic that sadly didn’t receive anywhere near the mature debate for which it is crying out is ensuring Sydney remains open to global talent. We heard plenty about which side is better at “stopping the boats” but very little about what policies are required to ensure Sydney remains the destination of choice for the world’s most skilled or entrepreneurial people.
Previously we’ve identified greater visa flexibility as one of the keys to success in attracting such talent, but we have also come to understand the importance not just of attracting that talent after it has developed fully but also at an earlier stage. This means attracting the world’s students.
In our increasingly knowledge-based economy, having access to talent, both domestic and imported, is the key indicator of economic success. Most Sydneysiders are probably unaware of how competitive Sydney is in attracting international students: Hong Kong has just 26,000, New York around 50,000 and London just over 100,000. Sydney has just under 65,000 and half of these are in Western Sydney.
Remembering that both London and New York have twice the population of Sydney, you get the real measure of the significance of this comparison. Global Sydney is a very firm reality in terms of international student numbers. Certainly, we are on a track to see Western Sydney be home to a decisive majority of international students in coming decades.
Why does all this matter? Because cities are competing for talent as well as investment. The world is undergoing a sorting process in which cities which attract and retain graduates are gaining in population, productivity, innovation and wealth, leaving the rest behind. Such cities also attract higher wages and create more jobs everyone. This is a win-win proposition.
Given Sydney’s existing strengths, this big international student profile reinforces our role as Australia’s smartest and most productive city. We already create just under a quarter of Australia’s wealth and our financial services alone create more wealth than the whole of the Western Australian mining economy.
We must not be complacent. This partly means improving public transport to attract more international students and global talent to a global city. We must also ensure that our world beating universities have a funding model which guarantees their continued success. But there is a challenge also to us, the people of Sydney and our politicos.
Sydney makes its contribution to Australia by being open to global talent and investment. We must not turn global talent away by making visas too hard to get hold of and barriers to access and citizenship too high.
We must not turn our backs to those also who seek safety here but then turn out to be the doctors, the software engineers and the entrepreneurs we need to stay ahead. The great news is that they want to come here to study in the first place. Their future ensures our future. We are already ahead of others. Let’s be really smart and keep it that way.