Thursday, May 13, 2021

Protecting Australian Education Exports

Van der Kley and Herscovitch, have produced a four page policy paper, for the ANU National Security College, on the risks to international student enrollments from China, due to tensions with Australia. Unfortunately, the provocative title of the paper may make the situation situation worse. I suggest policy proposals for protecting Australia's interests can be worded in a way which avoids giving offence.

As the paper points out, education is a $10B export industry which employs many Australians, and one of the few major ones not effected by Chinese restrictions. The industry is fragmented, with Australian public and private institutions both  competing for international students. The authors propose an Office for Education Trade, but Austrade, I suggest, is particularly unsuited to this role and may well do more harm than good. It is perhaps the lack of government intervention, which has been behind the success of this export sector. Australia has excellent, independent institutions, which international students value highly and government branding may damage this. 

Tom Worthington Speaking at NICT 2018 in Colombo
Tom Worthington, proposing Indo-Pacific
joint education initiative
, in Colombo, 2018

Australia should, obviously diversify its education market to new countries. That can take years, but Australia academics connections with the region can help with this (obvious markets are India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia).

As the authors suggest, Australia should prepare for Chinese students being discouraged from studying in Australia. In 2017 I warned of this possibility and suggested online learning should be prepared as an option. In this I avoided explicitly mentioning China, to avoid giving offence. The crash programs to implement e-learning in 2020 for COVID-19 have now made this possible. However, while providing some flexibility, a reliance on e-learning also creates a risk, as technical means could be used to cut off Australian institutions access to their students in China. 

The paper recommends increasing Australia’s education diplomacy. However, there is no mention of , its implications for Australian education exports, or the geopolitical and geoeconomic situation of the region. Rather attempting to directly challenge China, I have suggested offering alternative forms of education to the region (Worthington, 2014 & 2018). While the loss of Chinese international students is of concern, in the longer term there are far graver implications for Australian education, and the nation's strategic situation.


Protecting Education Exports: Minimising the damage of China’s future economic coercion, Policy Options Paper No 18, Dirk van der Kley and Benjamin Herscovitch, National Security College, May 2021. Url

Worthington, T. (2014, August). Chinese and Australian students learning to work together online proposal to expand the New Colombo Plan to the online environment. In 2014 9th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (pp. 164-168). IEEE. URL

Worthington, T. (2018, December). Blended Learning for the Indo-Pacific. In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Teaching, Assessment, and Learning for Engineering (TALE) (pp. 861-865). IEEE. URL

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