Aust helping India’s big education dream

Over the next five years, India has an ambitious goal to educate a cohort of people which is 16 times the size of Australia’s entire population.

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Both countries see enormous potential for Australian universities and its training sector in helping India upskill 400 million people.

Already Australia is the second most popular destination for Indian students, behind the United States, with more than 60,000 studying down under in 2016.

A large delegation of education representatives, led by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, is in New Delhi this week to look at how to grow the partnership further.

The Indian government has predicted to meet its goal by 2022, it will need an extra 4 million university graduates every year.

“Clearly that is a very challenging task to build your own system at a rate that enables you to produce that many graduates,” Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson told AAP in New Delhi where she is part of the delegation.

Universities are using the delegation’s meetings to explore how they might help India with that task.

Ms Robinson has noticed during the two-day summit a real desire from the Indian education sector to encourage more foreign institutions to work with them.

There have been regulatory barriers for Australian universities wanting to set up undergraduate courses in India, but she is hopeful those will be eased.

“Not only is there opportunity created by the aspirations of India to lift so many more people out of poverty through education – that we feel we have a real role to be able to assist with – we also see from the Indian side a real desire to pave the way to enable that potential to be realised as well,” she told AAP.

In the vocational sector, Australian educators are piloting “training the trainer” courses in five Indian cities, starting with 250 students.

Senator Birmingham will formally launch the new courses – co-branded by the two governments – at the Australia-India Skills Conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“Just like a good building, our two nations have an excellent foundation for this shared endeavour,” he will say.

“But a good building needs more than just a strong foundation – it needs to grow and take shape.”

He believes Australia can play a role in building the capacity of trainers, “the cornerstone of an industry-led vocational education system”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his meeting with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Monday included a “very fruitful discussion” about education, and the role Australia could play.

“I have taken copious notes from Prime Minister Modi’s advice on how Australian education institutions can be even more successful than they are today,” Mr Turnbull said.

“His understanding of the need for training, the need for education and the role that Australia can play is extremely informed, very, very deep and very detailed.”

Education exchange is about more than Australia taking on Indian students.

Ms Robinson sees the education relationship as being on the cusp of a “step-change” to move from delivery of training to genuine collaboration and exchange of knowledge.

Formal research agreements between institutions have grown five-fold since 2003, with about 400 now in place.

Mr Turnbull says in a world where growth is driven by technology, science and innovation, collaboration is the key to success.

“Knowledge shared is not diminished, but rather it is enhanced and for the benefit of both parties,” he told the Australia-India Knowledge Partnership dinner on Monday.

“Our opportunities to achieve our dreams are limited only by our imagination, enterprise and courage.”

With India’s enormous dream of 400 million newly skilled workers, those three qualities will need to be abundant.

Debate ensues over proposal to divert super for housing deposits

But Michael Sukkar – the minister assisting Treasurer Scott Morrison put together a housing affordability package for the May 9 budget – won’t say whether this includes allowing young buyers to tap into their superannuation.

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Mr Morrison told a conference on Monday it is now taking eight years to save for a housing deposit in Sydney and six years for those looking in Melbourne.

Mr Sukkar said if potential buyers have a target of $50,000 for a deposit in Sydney, by the time they get to the eighth year the deposit required is substantially more.

“We are going to be pretty keen to examine measures that can bridge that gap and allow first home buyers to get into the market as soon as possible otherwise the goal posts keep shifting,” Mr Sukkar told Sky News on Tuesday.

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There is speculation the government will consider allowing young people to divert super contributions into a special savings account, which they will have to match dollar for dollar from other savings.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen saw this as another Liberal attempt to undermine the superannuation system.

“It would actually overheat the housing market even more,” Mr Bowen told ABC television.

“The only winners would be vendors who would have two first home buyers with access to super outbidding each other, spending their superannuation money.”

Derryn Hinch, a key crossbench senator, believes such an idea is “crazy” and would push more people onto the pension, which would inevitably cost taxpayers.

He believes many young people have unrealistic expectations when it came to buying property.

“Owning your own home is not an Australian right, it’s a dream and everyone wants to do it,” he told ABC radio, adding you’re not necessarily going to get a two-car garage at 22-years-old.

But he does favours making it easier for older people to downsize their homes by ensuring the move didn’t affect their eligibility for the pension, in order to improve housing affordability.

While Mr Morrison didn’t touch on allowing would-be home buyers to tap their super accounts in his speech, he did raise concerns that retirees are using their super lump sum to pay off their outstanding mortgage.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce declined to comment on the government’s plans.

“I know it’s terribly tough in Sydney and Melbourne,” he told ABC radio, adding that people should consider moving to regional cities and towns for cheaper housing.

Other: Leaders talk Australia-India ties

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‘We will pray’: Families gather after Egypt church attack

Families of victims of Sunday’s bombing at Alexandria’s Coptic cathedral have gathered at the Monastery of Saint Mina under heavy security as Egypt’s cabinet approved a three-month state of emergency ahead of a scheduled trip by Pope Francis.

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Hundreds of mourners, many outraged by what they said was the state’s failure to keep them safe on one of their holiest days, carried wooden coffins to the beat of drums interrupted by the wails of those dressed in all black.

“Where should we go pray? They are attacking us in our churches. They don’t want us to pray but we will pray,” said Samira Adly, 53, whose neighbours were killed in the attack.

Relatives react during the funeral of Copts on April 10 (AAP)AAP

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The blast in Egypt’s second largest city, which killed 17 including seven police officers, came hours after a bomb struck a Coptic church in Tanta, a nearby city in the Nile Delta, that took the lives of 28 and wounded nearly 80.

The twin attacks marked one of the bloodiest days in recent memory for Egypt’s Christian minority, the largest in the Middle East.

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, which has waged a campaign against Egypt’s Christian minority. The Copts, whose presence in Egypt dates to the Roman era, have long complained of religious persecution and accused the state of not doing enough to protect them.

Coming on Palm Sunday, when Christians mark the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, the bombings appeared designed to spread fear among the Coptic minority.

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The attacks also raised security fears ahead of a visit to Cairo by Roman Catholic Pope Francis planned for April 28-29 intended to promote interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

Coptic Pope Tawadros, who was leading the mass in Alexandria’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral when the bomb exploded, was not harmed, the Interior Ministry said.

The nationwide state of emergency declared by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and agreed by the cabinet on Monday is expected to be approved by parliament within seven days in order to remain in place.

Measures would be taken to “maintain security across the country, protect public and private property and the lives of citizens”, it said.

OTHER: Assad allies: US Syria attack ‘crosses red lines’

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Labor not keen on Adani railway loan

Federal Labor has questioned the merit of granting a taxpayer-funded loan for a railway to the Adani Carmichael mine.

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The Indian company has applied for a $900 million concessional loan from the government’s Northern Australia infrastructure fund to help build a rail line connecting the central Queensland mine and the Abbot Point port.

“If you want to have a good commercial operation in Australia, I am not convinced the taxpayer of Australia should underwrite the risk of the project through a billion dollar loan,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Brisbane.

Mr Shorten said other mining companies are not getting billion dollar railways built for them.

“We have to make sure it stacks up,” Mr Shorten said.

The company’s Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland was approved in December but has faced serious opposition from environmental and indigenous groups.

Senior executives of Adani, including founder and chairman Gautam Adani met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in India on Monday.

Mr Adani requested an early resolution of native title issues surrounding the mine, which was hit by a Federal Court ruling that invalidated deals with traditional owners across Australia.

Legislation dealing with the problem is before the Senate and Mr Turnbull is understood to have assured the company the issue would be fixed.

Mr Shorten said Attorney General George Brandis was to blame for the confusion over native title.

Anything he touches turns to “custard”, the Labor leader said.

“In an incompetent government, he is the gold medal of incompetence,” he said.

Urban, Sia, Flume score Billboard noms

Australia will be well represented at this year’s Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas with Keith Urban, Sia, Flume and Hillsong Worship scoring nominations.

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The big winners at Monday’s nomination ceremony were Drake and The Chainsmokers with 22 nominations each, including going head-to-head for top artist.

Twenty One Pilots picked up the third most nominations with 17 while Rihanna has 14, The Weeknd collected 13 and Beyonce earned eight for the May 21 ceremony.

Urban scored a hat-trick in the country categories with nominations for top country artist and country album for Ripcord and country song for Blue Ain’t Your Color.

The Caboolture-raised artist faces Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton and Jason Aldean for top country artist.

Sia also bagged three, including top female artist pitting her against an elite field of Adele, Beyonce, Ariana Grande and Rihanna.

Sia’s top radio song and top collaboration nominations were for her hit Cheap Thrills with Sean Paul.

Sydney musician, DJ and producer Harley Streten, also known as Flume, will be looking to add to this year’s Grammy win with a Billboard trophy for dance/electronic album for Skin.

The Chainsmokers have two nominations in the category for Bouquet and Collage.

Hillsong Worship is in the running for top Christian artist.

Lauren Daigle, Hillary Scott & the Family, Skillet and Chris Tomlin are the other nominees.

The biggest award of the night, top artist, features a who’s who of the music industry with the nominees: Adele; Beyonce; Justin Bieber; Ariana Grande; Shawn Mendes; Rihanna; Twenty One Pilots; The Weeknd; The Chainsmokers; and Drake.

The Billboard awards differ from other award shows as nominees are based on key fan interactions with music, including album and digital songs sales, streaming, radio airplay, touring and social engagement.

The measurements were tracked between March 18, 2016 through to March 16, this year.

Gloom holds amid good business conditions

Strength in the services sector and an improved outlook for the mining industry have helped lift business conditions to their highest level since the global financial crisis in 2008, a new survey shows.

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Despite the uplift in conditions, however, the NAB Monthly Business Survey for March shows that business confidence has fallen and remains below the peaks of recent years.

NAB chief economist Alan Oster said the bounce in business conditions was a little surprising given the disruption caused by Cyclone Debbie in Queensland in late March.

“Even so, conditions have improved almost across the board to levels that suggest a strong economy in the near term,” Mr Oster said in a statement on Tuesday.

“That includes WA, which has been looking better of late and suggests the worst of the mining downturn may be behind us.”

NAB said it was unclear why there was a divergence between business conditions and business confidence, but suggested it could be a result of global political uncertainty or longer-term domestic uncertainty.

The survey’s measure of business conditions jumped to 14 points in March, up from nine points in February and well above the long-run average of five points.

Business confidence eased to six points in March, from seven points in February, although it was still in line with the long-term average.

Mr Oster said the March survey results were consistent with NAB’s forecast for economic growth to accelerate in the second half of 2017.

However, the longer-term outlook was one of caution because growth drivers such as LNG exports, commodity prices and housing construction would begin to fade.

The March survey showed that the improvement in business conditions was primarily driven by the major services and wholesale sectors.

But the mining sector was also impressive, having benefited from higher commodity prices and an improved outlook for global demand.

On the other hand, business conditions in the retail sector continued to deteriorate, which made the outlook for consumption “downbeat”.

The improvement in business conditions was mostly driven by higher sales, with other components, such as employment, flat and profitability modestly higher.

NAB said the stable measurement of employment suggested a healthier labour market than official data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.