China and Australia - our valued education relationship

09 Sep 2014 Speech



China and Australia – our valued education relationship

Beijing, China

9 September 2014

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Good afternoon and thank you Professor Liu (Leo) and I acknowledge Professor David Walker, BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University and extend my thanks to Peking University for your gracious hosting today.

I also acknowledge Professor HU [WHO] Zhuanglin [Jew-ang-lin] – one of the earliest scholars to come to Australia.

This is my first visit to a Chinese university as the Australian Government Minister for Education. It is a wonderful opportunity to speak in particular to the young people of China. I understand the audience today represents students from a number of leading Chinese universities that all share an important connection to Australia through the Australian Studies networks at Peking University, Renmin University and Beijing Foreign Studies University.

It is a privilege to be here at one of China’s leading universities. The university’s international standing and reputation is well known. It is one of the top 200 in the world and one of six Chinese universities in the top 200 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

I applaud this achievement of Peking University and the commitment of the Chinese people to high quality higher education. It’s a commitment Australia shares.

The Australian Government values our nation’s strong and growing relationship with China and its people.

It’s one of long standing and incalculable importance:

  • China is by far Australia’s largest trading partner
  • China is our largest source of immigrants
  • China is our largest source of overseas students
  • China is our largest source of international tourists.
  • And of course China is in our region and our time zone, which makes doing business with China so much easier.

In April this year Australian Prime Minister the Hon Tony Abbott MP led the most high-powered trade delegation ever to leave Australia to the inaugural Australia Week in China. A key element was the 100 strong education delegation that visited Chengdu and Shanghai to learn about the opportunities for closer cooperation in education with China.

As Prime Minister Abbott said on that visit, our economic and investment ties signify the trust we place in each other. Our education ties are part of this trust relationship. They know no bounds.

The Australian Government is passionately committed to international education. We see it as a two-way street that benefits our societies and our economies. We know that education is the pre-eminent source of economic growth in the 21st century. In terms of people-to-people benefits, it is similarly, and historically, pre-eminent.

International students who come to Australia bring views and cultures from which we learn. Australia earns valuable export income by providing education services. It also gains inestimable cultural wealth.

For Australian students studying overseas, there is a reciprocal gain, that of experiencing another culture and a different perspective, of developing friendships and networks that last a lifetime. This flow of students internationally – student mobility – builds knowledge and understanding for us as individuals and as nations. As Education Minister, I’m proud of the role that education mobility plays in this.

China and Australia’s valued education and research partnership

Collaboration between Australia and China in education and research goes back further than our forty years of diplomatic relations. Early exchanges of scientists from the Australian Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences began in 1963 and 1964 and laid the foundation for the decades ahead.

There are many success stories but I think the most inspiring is the collaboration in radio astronomy. Astronomers from Australia and China have worked together for the past five decades. Our joint participation in the Square Kilometre Array, the world’s most significant multi-nation large scale scientific project, is just one example of the commitment and dedication of researchers collaborating internationally.

The first student exchanges started in 1974. There were exchanges of five students in each direction. Now almost 3,500 Australian students study in China and some 120,000 Chinese students study in Australia each year.

Australia and China’s education and research cooperation is highly productive:

  • Australia has more formal and active links with China than with any other country in the world. There are over 1 000 agreements in place between our higher education institutions. Most are for academic and research collaboration and staff and student exchange.
  • Seventeen Australian universities have exchange and cooperative agreements with Peking University. Some date back to the 1990s or earlier.
  • The BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University is an outstanding development, led by Professor David Walker. It simultaneously provides awareness and understanding of Australia in China and gives academic leadership to the network of over 30 Australian Studies Centres based in China.
  • The very successful China-Australia Executive Leaders Programme has seen more than 100 university leaders from Australia and China travel to each other's country for professional exchange. Programme participants included Professor Hao Ping [How-Ping], Vice Minister of Education, who at the time was Vice President of Peking University.
  • Through The Overseas Training Plan of 1 000 University Presidents in Central and Western China, some 50 university leaders have come to Australia to visit our universities.
  • The Chinese Government through the Hanban, and in partnership with Australian universities, colleges and schools, has established 13 Confucius Institutes and 35 classrooms across Australia. They promote Chinese language and culture in a friendly, accessible and educational way and we welcome them.
  • I am a particular supporter of transnational education where students in universities, vocational colleges and schools undertake Australian qualifications in China. They study disciplines that build students’ skills to meet the needs of China’s transforming economy. Some 60 000 Chinese students are currently undertaking such programmes. They stretch from Yunnan in the southwest to Jilin in the northeast.
  • Beijing Haileybury International School is an Australian boarding school for Chinese students. It delivers the Victorian Certificate of Education, aiming to graduate 180 students a year who can go on to study in Australia’s universities. I acknowledge the presence today of Dr Nicholas Dwyer, Principal of Haileybury International School Tianjin, and some of his year 11 students in the audience.

Our combined road to education initiatives like this is long and inspiring. Some of you today would no doubt have been influenced over many years by the extraordinary work of Professor Colin Mackerras AO, Emeritus Professor at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia who is with us today. Professor Mackerras has an impressive 50 years teaching in China and Australia. He inspired generations of Australian students to take on the challenge of studying China and Chinese students to study Australia. He is still a passionate advocate for Australia-China relations. Following his pioneering work, hundreds of scholars, universities and many thousands of students have joined the quest to make our relationship one of great and enduring value. What Colin Mackerras began, we must continue.

Research cooperation

Australia and China understand the benefits of this sharing of knowledge and expertise. It goes beyond graduating students, as important as that is. The value of accessing world-leading research infrastructure, and being at the forefront of efforts to address global challenges, is also a great and powerful element.

Research collaboration between Australia and China is expanding rapidly and is enormously productive.

China is Australia’s third largest partner in joint research publications. The number of papers involving Chinese and Australian authors published annually more than doubled between 2009 and 2013, from 2 000 to 4 600.

We are together developing innovative models for research collaboration. The Southeast University-Monash University Joint Graduate School and Research Institute is located in the Suzhou [Sue-Joe] Industrial complex – a hub of ‘brainpower’. It is an Australia-China joint venture offering postgraduate qualifications, aiming to graduate 150 PhD candidates each year.

Australia’s engagement with Chinese research activity is for the long term. The Australian Government is investing $10 million in the continuation of the Australia-China Science and Research Fund. Established in 2011, the fund has already successfully supported six joint research centres to work on shared challenges. This extension of funding will continue collaboration on strategic science and research initiatives of mutual interest. It will build on our decades of bilateral cooperation on science and technology.

A shared commitment to quality education

We know that the success of our partnerships depends heavily on quality. Australia and China share that view.

In developing the Academic Ranking of World Universities, first published by the Centre for World Class Universities and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China has demonstrated its commitment. It is increasing the standard of its higher education system and helping more Chinese universities to rank among the best in the world.

We can see this advance now and it is extraordinary. China’s focus on lifting the quality of higher education, through Project 985 is impressive. It promotes the development and reputation of the Chinese higher education system by funding 39 universities to be truly world class.

Just look at the trajectory. Five years ago, there were no Chinese universities in the world’s top 200 as measured in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Today there are six. As Minister for Education in Australia, this keeps me on my toes. But I plan to keep up.

The policies and targets China has set for 2020 are ambitious and admirable. China wants:

  • half a million new international university students; and
  • to train more than five million people through vocational education in key areas of economic demand.

Australia is excited at the opportunities these targets present for our ongoing education engagement.

Improvement in standards is seen not only in China’s universities. It is starting early. Many regions in China are performing at a high level in the international survey which evaluates education systems by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds.

China does many things right in schools education, and the results are plain to see.

Higher education reforms

This commitment to quality is the genesis of why, as Minister for Education, I am pursuing far-reaching higher education reforms. These are currently being considered by the Australian Parliament. They are carefully designed to improve Australia’s higher education system. This will put both Australian and international students in a stronger position.

The reforms will give Australian higher education institutions more freedom and autonomy to work to their strengths and deal with the challenges brought by the 21st century.

On my watch, students will be the major beneficiaries. They will have more choice about what and where to study. They will have more opportunity to attend university. They will have more support from our world leading student loans program, known as HELP. No student will pay a dollar upfront nor repay their loan until they are earning $50,000 Australian dollars a year. It is a great system introduced in the 1980s and we plan to extend and sustain it.

Through our reforms domestic and international students will also have better information to help them make decisions about where, how and what to study.

I know that impartial, factual information about our universities and colleges is an important priority for China.

Our reforms pose an equally exciting prospect for research. They safeguard Australia’s strong, competitive system. The Government will invest $11 billion over the next four years in research in Australian universities and provide more financial security for our major national research infrastructure and our mid-career researchers.

I am confident these reforms will generate further international interest in Australian higher education institutions. They will help us attract the best and brightest students from across the world and raise the standards of Australian university education even higher.

This is not only and education imperative, but an economic one.

Foreign language proficiency

Knowing how to speak more than one language is also important. We operate in a global economy. No genuine program of education internationalisation can succeed without it.

For this reason, the Australian Government is determined to boost knowledge among Australian students of the languages of our key regional partners, including China.

The Australian Government is reviving the teaching of foreign languages in Australian schools, to ensure that at least forty per cent of Year 12 students are studying a language other than English within a decade. As part of this plan we are promoting the recruitment of more specialist language teachers, both from Australia and overseas through skilled migration.

Chinese students in Australia

As our Prime Minister has said clearly, education exchange has to involve two-way traffic.

Australia is a go-to destination for Chinese students wishing to study overseas.

There are 120,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australia.

Ten per cent of Chinese students educated abroad come to Australia.

We are looking to grow that.

Chinese students often complete a decade or more of study in Australia – in intensive English, in secondary school and in higher education. Some students continue to a postgraduate research degree.

Chinese students in Australia have proven exemplary, not only through their academic achievement, but through their appreciation of the value of having an Australian alma mater. Chinese students know how to hold on to these roots. Look at the membership and breadth of activities that are supported through the Australia China Alumni Association, both in Australia and through its network in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou [Ge-Wang-Joe]. It is formidable. And heartwarming.

Many Chinese leaders and scholars who studied in Australia hold important roles in government or business in China and throughout the world.

We share China’s pride when Chinese students return to China to pursue their careers aided by their quality Australian education. We know they will not forget us but will maintain deep links with Australia throughout their lives. Those Chinese students who choose to stay permanently in Australia, enrich us permanently.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring Australia maintains its position as a top destination for Chinese and other international students. We have consistently ranked in the top five destinations. We mean to grow that standing.

I want to assure you all that backing up Australia’s education system are robust regulatory and financial frameworks, including high levels of protection for international students. These will not weaken.

We are overcoming barriers in a measured way. Australia has streamlined its visa applications for international students and has expanded opportunities for students to work in Australia following the completion of their study.

Many Australian higher education institutions have established strong business links. Work experience improves students’ chances to get great jobs.

A priority for Australia is to ensure the sustainability and quality of Australian international education. We will build on Australia’s reputation for excellence and innovation. We will strengthen and diversify our international partnerships. We will continue to deliver a positive, rewarding and high-quality experience to students from across the world, including China.

New Colombo Plan

Internationalisation is a two-way affair.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in his address in Shanghai in April -

For decades, some of the best and brightest students of our region have come to Australia to study – but there was very little return traffic.

We do have much to offer; but we have much to learn as well.

The New Colombo Plan is a flagship Australian Government initiative. It provides opportunities for Australian undergraduate students to study and work as interns and to receive mentoring. These students will experience first-hand the benefits that come from living, studying and working in the Indo-Pacific, including in China.

The 2014 pilot phase has been very successful. It is supporting around 1 300 students and forty scholarship holders to study in the four pilot locations – Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Students come from a range of disciplines including business, law, health, education, language, culture, science and engineering.

In 2015 the New Colombo Plan will be expanding. It will reach into more than 35 host locations, including, I am delighted to say, China. This will support approximately 60 scholarships and provide around $8 million in mobility grants for Australian undergraduate students across the host countries.

The New Colombo Plan in China will open up enormous opportunities for Australian students. Participants will experience first-hand the benefits that come from living, studying and working in this fascinating, startling and impressive expansion that is modern China.

As well as the New Colombo Plan, there will continue to be a range of government, institutional and private sector mobility and scholarship programmes. These strengthen the skills of Australian and international students at different stages of their education.

They support international students to study in Australia, and Australian students to head overseas.

The Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships programme is a fine example. It provides scholarships for high-achieving postgraduate students to study in any of 125 countries. It both builds their international awareness and nurtures their understanding of the value of collaboration.

Since 2007 there have been 204 Endeavour scholarship and fellowship recipients from China, including from Peking University. Over the same period, 148 Australians have accepted an Endeavour scholarship or fellowship to go to China, of which 17 chose to undertake their programme at Peking University. I am delighted to know that we have a number of Endeavour award holders in the audience today.

This is but one of our mobility programmes.

Today I’m pleased to announce a further $16.5 million in grants under a range of related mobility programs to help 5 000 more Australian students study in nations including this one. These programs will inevitably enrich their understanding of our region and complement the New Colombo Plan. We are serious about two-way traffic.


While Australia and China have been friends and partners in education for more than forty years, Australia sees our relationship as barely beginning.

We take a long view. A patient view. The view of true friends, and partners.

We will build on the great foundations we have established together.

Education is our past and it is our future.

For Australia and China, that future will remain secure.