Lord Mayor Robert Doyle on a knowledge economy, and how international students are a part of it

INTERNATIONAL students have significant influence over how Melbourne is run, and should prepare themselves for a future in a knowledge economy. That’s the message reporter Kai Yi Wong took home in a one-on-one interview with the man in charge of the City of Melbourne, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

Photo: Supplied

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. Photo: Supplied

As an international student ambling through the city streets between classes, part-time work and catch-ups with friends, perhaps you have sometimes paused to wonder, who runs this city?

Though for students new to Melbourne, “Lord Mayor” may not be the first to come to mind. But while the title may sound like a throwback to the old days, the job of running a modern day city is as cutting edge as it gets.

Inside his office, the Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle moves quickly, and with purpose. A shoelace has come undone, but it doesn’t hinder him in the slightest.

“Essentially it’s like this. I’m the chairman of the board of a company that turns over $500m a year, on an asset base of about $3.5bn of assets. So in a sense, the City of Melbourne is a corporation, and I sit atop that as the elected leader of the city,” he said.

“A lot of what I do is to form partnerships between various groups to get a better overall outcome.”

That includes thinking about “how to best develop a relationship with our international student community” Cr Doyle said.

A graduate of Monash University and a former teacher at Geelong College and Scotch College, Cr Doyle began his first term as Lord Mayor on November 30, 2008, after a hotly contested municipal election.


Inside Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s office. Photo: Aun Ngo

Engaging the international student community

Among the first cities to recognise the importance of international students in the community, Cr Doyle points to the city’s achievements, beating other global cities like London, New York and Frankfurt to rank second in the world in the 2015 QS Best Student Cities Ranking.

“We were proud…that we beat these cities, because they are known for having great universities and teaching. And we came ahead of all of those. It means students feel their experience has been valuable and worthwhile, which is an important measure,” he said.

In addition to the Lord Mayor’s Student Welcome, the City of Melbourne has also established a Student Welcome Desk at the Melbourne Airport, where volunteers, who are international students themselves, greet students and hand out welcome packs which contain important information for newly-arrived students.

Cr Doyle believes the Student Welcome Desk has helped the international student community tremendously.

Traditionally only open in the months of January and February, Cr Doyle says it has “proven to be a huge hit” – so much so that the initiative will continue all the way till June.

Insiders to the city

If you live in the City of Melbourne, you can vote… That’s a sign that we think our international community is very important. – Cr Doyle

Cr Doyle sees every international student as an ambassador for Melbourne.

“If international students have a great time here, they go back to their country of origin and they speak well of Melbourne. They talk about studying here, which generates more interest and more students for us.

“If you go back 10 years, we’ve (the community) doubled our number of international students in the city, and I’m just talking about the central city. We’re up to about 30,000 international students now, the vast majority of whom come from China, Malaysia and India. But in reality, we have students from all over the world,” he said.

He predicts Melbourne could be home to some 180,000 international students by 2030 – but to do so, he said the city would need to keep working to remain attractive to students.

“The secret is to make them feel that they are not visitors or outsiders. They’re actually a part of us, a part of the intellectual and academic community, as well as part of the broader community,” he said.

While international students are generally considered outsiders to Australian politics, ineligible to participate in state or federal elections, students can exert significant influence over the City of Melbourne’s municipal elections.

“You might not be a citizen, but if you live in the City of Melbourne, you can vote for mayors, Lord Mayor and councillors. That’s a sign that we think our international community is very important,” Cr Doyle said.

Looking ahead

If I were a student, I’d find that very exciting: that even as you start your course, the job that you will do might not have been invented yet, because that’s how swiftly things are changing. – Cr Doyle

As the chair of the Major Projects committee for the city, Cr Doyle says it’s a constant juggling act to keep costs down in the city, especially in the housing market.

“The city has got to be vibrant and provide jobs, and international students tend to want them in close proximity to where they live,” he said.

“A number of international students will want accommodation. We build – in Melbourne – more than half of all the new apartments built in Australia. And the vast majority of those are built in the centre of the city.

“There are some students who are fortunate enough to purchase, but we want to keep those apartments affordable and have them hold their value, so if they choose to sell them, they won’t lose money,” he said.

Looking ahead, Cr Doyle says international students would do well to understand that Melbourne’s prosperity will be built on a knowledge economy.

“I would say to seize opportunity, and it may not be where you think it is,” he said.

“I think – and this is a story I often tell at graduation – if you look at Melbourne’s prosperity, we’ve already had our first three waves of prosperity. Where is it at now? The answer is the knowledge economy.

“That’s where the future is. If I were a student, I’d find that very exciting: that even as you start your course, the job that you will do might not have been invented yet, because that’s how swiftly things are changing.”

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