Education represents Australia’s third largest export sector, after iron ore and coal, and according to Australia’s Department of Education and Workplace Relations, ‘Australia’s world-class international education sector contributed $34 billion to the local economy last year, an increase of 15.3%’. There is also strong evidence to suggest that the total economic benefit to Australia is far greater than simply the revenue generated from tuition and housing, including the knock on effects in tourism, retail, food, wine, healthcare and other exports.
However, Australia has become increasingly dependent on China and the rest of Asia for foreign students and our education sector needs to continuously seek to refine, improve and upgrade the experience for Chinese students. Of overseas student enrolments in 2018, 38.3% (152,591) were from China.
China’s education sector was decimated during the cultural revolution and, for a number of reasons, hasn’t yet matched the pace of reform, investment and modernisation experienced in other areas (eg manufacturing, retail, real estate, tourism) This may reflect its relatively low impact on the growth and productivity numbers, at least in the short term. In moving millions of people out of poverty, the priority is create jobs and housing and stimulate consumption, whilst spending money on new universities takes longer and costs more. Many countries around the world have seen the benefits of China’s weaknesses in this sector and have benefited from the large numbers of foreign students who have opted for an education overseas.
With so many Chinese students on the move seeking a world class education in the world’s top universities and schools and willing to pay for it, it’s not surprising to hear that some universities are at risk of a major problem if, for whatever reason, there is a sharp decline in numbers. This would have a significant impact on our economy as a whole, not to mention our leading universities.
Opportunities and challenges for Australian universities, colleges and other institutions include:
- maintaining and growing their position as a first choice destination for Chinese students in an increasingly competitive global market.
- withstanding competitive pressures from developed countries, notably US, Canada, UK, Europe and others, not to mention local Asian universities and education institutions with ambitions to offer a world class experience and keep their students at home.
- offering a “China Ready” experience for foreign students considering Australia as a preferred destination to meet their education needs and return to their home countries with a positive view of their time overseas.
- facilitating contact and relationships between local and foreign students, to enrich the cultural exchange on both sides and equip young Chinese people with new skills, confidence and knowledge to survive in an unfamiliar foreign environment.
- reaching out to the local business community to offer a career path for chinese students to transition into Australia’s public and private sector via internships, work experience and full time jobs, to retain Asian talent in Australia and improve our fast deteriorating “Asia Capability Score”.
It’s a good example of how much the world has changed as a result of the rise of China in the Asian Century. You could point at the major players in almost any industry, including property, construction, education, mining, tourism, food, agriculture, migration, wealth management and banking, and ask the same question: “How much exposure do you have to China and how are you protecting yourself by managing and preserving the relationship with Chinese customers and parners – and enhancing their perceptions of us – rather than simply relying on the revenue continuing to flow in?”