Education: the tie that binds Australia and China

Two years ago the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) received one of the largest gifts ever bestowed on an Australian university when Chinese billionaire businessman Dr Chau Chak Wing gifted the facility with $25 million for a new wing and scholarship fund.

The Kingold Group chairman’s gift to the UTS business centre was not only generous but also tangible proof of the esteem in which China holds Australian tertiary education – two of Dr Chau’s three children attended the university.

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Artist’s impression of the Gehry/Chak Wing Building at UTS Sydney.

“Dr Chau’s generosity not only supports our ambition to build a world-class campus, it also makes possible Australia-China academic exchange opportunities, which helps students expand their global vision,” vice-chancellor Professor Ross Milbourne said in a press release.

The good doctor was equally delighted that the centre, to be designed by American uber-architect Frank Gehry, will be named the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building.

“I hope this gift continues to inspire global excellence and encourage others to support the education sector,” Dr Chau Chak Wing said.

The gift comprises $20 million to be contributed to the building’s proposed $150 million cost and the establishment of the $5 million Dr Chau Chak Wing Scholarship Fund to promote Australia-China relations. That will be available to UTS business students later this year.

Due for completion by the end of 2013, the building will refresh the $15 billion Australian international education industry.

By far the biggest grouping within Australia’s international students is Chinese, accounting for 35 percent of international students on our campuses, and we are the third most-preferred destination after the US and the UK.

“Countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada compete for engagement with China and the Government recognises that it needs to work strategically to maintain Australia’s position as a partner of choice for high-quality education and research,” a spokesperson for the Minister of Tertiary Education said. 

With China placing enormous importance on raising education and skills levels and with only 2100 higher educational institutions for 1.3 billion people, coupled with high entry requirements, demand for overseas study in the foreseeable future from within the forecast 500 million-strong newly emerging middle classes should remain strong.

It is in Australia’s interest not to regard this opportunity as a ‘cash cow’ but rather to develop long-term strategies for our educational institutions to achieve a depth of learning and flexibility that will keep an international market attracted.

“China’s higher education reform, and particularly its recent internationalisation push, is an opportunity for Australia to capitalise on its existing education supplier status while re-calibrating its education relations with China towards a more comprehensive partnership,” said Asian specialist Philipp Ivanov in a paper delivered to the Lowy Institute in 2011.

While we have seen a 7 percent decrease in overall Chinese student enrolments in the first quarter of 2012, attributed to the increased strength of our dollar, there has been good news as well.

“This [decrease] is not reflected in the higher education sector which has seen a 5 percent increase,” a spokesperson for the Minister for Tertiary Education said.

“With only 2100 higher educational institutions for 1.3 billion people, coupled with high entry requirements, demand for overseas study… should remain strong.”

The Australia China Council’s submission to The Asian Century White Paper recommends that we establish a “regular policy dialogue between the Australian and Chinese governments and institutions” to address areas such as visa reforms, joint research funds and scholarships, and qualification recognition under a single dedicated portfolio.

Increasingly, Australian tertiary institutions are also recognising that by taking their expertise to China they can reach an even greater number of students.

The University of Sydney is taking the initiative with more than 50 research programs with 15 leading universities in China and is extending partnerships to universities in western China.

For over 20 years the Australia-China Council has been operating the Australian Studies in China Program that funds grants and information-exchange services across 25 Australian studies centres in China.

This program has led to the establishment of the multi-faceted BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University, a partnership between the Australia-China Council, BHP Billiton, Universities Australia and the former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The Chair plays a leadership role in promoting and expanding Australian studies in China.

In recent years science collaborations between Australia and China have grown considerably as China has increased its investment in research infrastructure and talent.

Some collaborations include the following:

• The jointly funded Australia-China Science and Research Fund, another important mechanism to initiate and support Australia China research collaboration.

• In the first of its kind by an Australian institution, Monash University is establishing a joint research and education campus in eastern China focusing on science and engineering.

• AustCham Beijing has for the past seven years been providing young Australians with intern and career opportunities in China and in 2010 established the AustCham China Scholarship Program, the only dedicated China-specific scholarship to date.

Additionally, over the past year Austrade has been promoting Australian education through its Future Unlimited initiative which participated in the recent Australia China Careers Fair in Shanghai, the largest event of its type ever held by a foreign government in China.

“At the conclusion of the Fair, a total of 455 jobs were created with 3800 applications submitted by the 1306 Chinese graduates of Australian universities registered with Austrade’s HR online partner Zhaopin.com,” a spokesperson for Austrade said.

The event brought together 15 Australian universities and 43 Australian, Chinese and international corporates, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, Shanghai, and the Australia China Alumni Association, and attracted 1200 visitors.

Among the major companies attending were ANZ, BlueScope Steel, CPA, NAB, Rio Tinto, WorleyParsons China along with Chinese companies from China’s Top 500 and international HR companies.

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