Subject: (International Education)


FRAN KELLY: Simon Birmingham is the Assistant Minister for Education and Training, he was in China earlier this week, he’s currently in South Korea, Minister, welcome to RN Breakfast.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Fran and good morning to your listeners.

FRAN KELLY: Simon Birmingham, in China 30,000,000 people are undertaking vocational education and training. That’s going to increase to a staggering 40,000,000 students in five years, what does this mean for Australia? What’s the opportunity?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well the opportunities for Australia are enormous to build on what is already an incredibly strong partnership we have with both China and South Korea and many other nations in the provision of international education which, as you rightly said, is our third largest export earner. It generates around $17 billion and as a government we are very serious about getting the visa settings right and the relationship right with these nations to continue to grow that market which we have successfully grown over the last couple of years after a dip due to some visa reforms of the previous government and we’re now well and truly back on track. Developing an international education strategy that is being led across the whole of government bringing in immigration, industry, foreign affairs and trade and education to work collaboratively, and we have in Australia at present, around 150,000 Chinese students and many thousands of Korean students as well and it’s a real testament to the fact that we are recognised as a quality education provider, not just in universities, but in vocational education and training, in English language provision and in school education.

FRAN KELLY: and that’s an issue that we might get to, the quality of education but, given what I’ve said at the beginning which is the rate that universities are being built in China and in South Korea. Won’t there inevitably come a point where there are so many universities or TAFE colleges in Asia, that supply and demand will mean Australia will struggle to compete, to attract them; they won’t need to come here?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I think there is two points to that, Fran. The first is that we’re still seeing a very strong growing market for education with university education or skills based vocational training in both countries. With that growth, comes more opportunity. So, the number of vocational education and training students in China might currently be around 30,000,000, but it’s estimated to grow to about 38,000,000 just by 2020 so, you need only maintain the current market share to still see, of course, significant growth from that. But there’s also increasing opportunities for Australian institutions to partner with educational institutions in Korea and in China and that’s been a real focus of my trip, discussing how institutions, like the Box Hill institute of TAFE in Victoria, partners with the Shanghai Pharmaceutical School for the delivering of training in China. So there’s a mix of service provisions available, they’re not just delivering educational opportunities to students in Australia, but also delivering those opportunities to students within the destination country as well.

FRAN KELLY: Some of our universities are doing that, aren’t they? Actually setting up campuses in these countries, they’re not necessarily in a partner deal are they? Is that right?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You are absolutely seeing that, but there are various mixes at play here. Some of the institutions are absolutely providing for delivery within those countries as well as, of course, partnering up with different institutions. So it is a real mixed model and it is our opportunity to capitalise on that in all of its different ways and formats and I’ve been very heartened by the enthusiasm within China and within Korea for us to be able to keep growing those markets.

FRAN KELLY: and is it a two way learning thing? I mean Australia took to them with the Box Hill TAFE partnering up with, I think you said, the Shanghai Pharmaceutical School, I mean, Australia is a leader in farm and manufacturing so I guess there’s an expertise exchange there, but what about the other way? China, for instance, is a manufacturing giant and in high tech too, with the Huawei mobile phone company is a world leader, a technology leader. Is exchange happening back the other way? 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There is absolutely investment going in both directions, Fran, and Huawei, who you mentioned, are investing $30 million in a training and development facility in Sydney that will provide opportunities to thousands of people in Australia to upskill in the latest in technology and development. So we need to appreciate that it goes in both directions and as a government we are quite committed to that in establishing the new Colombo Plan that’s providing more opportunities for more Australia students to visit in Korea, in China and throughout our region and just last night I was delighted to meet with some students from my home state who happen to be in Korea at the same time and are living proof of the relationship building that can come from this because, yes, international education is big business, generating $17 billion and supporting around 130,000 jobs in Australia, but it is also perhaps the most effective way to strengthen our ties and our relationships with countries within our region that have lasting benefits economically, at government to government, at national security level across all aspects of our relationship with these critical nations.

FRAN KELLY: We’re speaking with the Assistant Minister for Education and training, Simon Birmingham. Minister, what you say is absolutely right, of course, we need these deep links, they are the key to our economic future and our diplomatic future as well. The key to that is language, for years on this program we’ve been looking at the rate of Asian language uptake or teaching in our schools and it’s not getting any better it seems to me. That’s an automatic limiter right there, do we have breakdown in policy cohesion, that we can’t in fact get our Australian students learning another language? Let alone an Asian language?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I think that Christopher Pyne has certainly identified language as a failing…

FRAN KELLY: …We’ve all identified it; we’re just not teaching it…

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: indeed, and it is part of our overall action plan in relation to schools. We currently have trial in place at pre-school level to better deliver language at that absolute first stage of early learning. It is identified as a priority within our changes to teacher quality and the reforms we are applying in relation to the training of teachers to try to get more people with better language skills in the classroom but, of course, it’s also an opportunity to form a greater two way exchange for individuals and we’re certainly seeing that capacity of people being trained to Australian students in countries like Korea, which would provide an opportunity then for an exchange of teachers and trainers between our countries which has great potential benefit. Just today, I’ll be visiting an institute where the Sydney TAFE is delivering Australian training qualifications here in Korea which will, of course, mean that those people are trained to Australian standards with the delivery of our vocational education and training qualifications.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, we need to leave it there, thank you very much for joining us.