Speech to China Advanced Leadership Program, Canberra

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much, Professor Ken Smith, for that welcome, and it is a delight to be back here once again supporting this very prestigious event and to be doing so with so many wonderful talented faces across our governments in the room today.

I would also firstly like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the Canberra region, but in doing so acknowledge all of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, and acknowledge that as a nation we continue to learn more of their knowledge and culture from their knowledge and culture and build upon that together as a country.

And I acknowledge many distinguished guests here today. [indistinct], thank you for joining us. To one of my distinguished predecessors – one of my most distinguished predecessors as Minister for Education and Training – Dr David Kemp, thank you very much, David, for being here and for your work in support of ANZSOG. Professor Allan Fels, and of course to my parliamentary colleague Senator Penny Wong. It is a delight to be back here again with Penny, demonstrating the bipartisan support, the unified support in Australia for the strength of our relationship with China, and indeed for this program in particular. And of course, in sharing the stage with Penny it is not just bipartisan support for the relationship in this program, but of course we also bring common parochial support and encouragement to all of you who are visitors to Australia, to make sure that you return home to China with some fine South Australian wines.

To representatives from New Zealand as well as those from China, ladies and gentlemen all, it is a thrill to be here, and in particular I single out Mr Mao Youfeng the head of delegation from our distinguished guests from China.

The China Advanced Leadership Program and the China Reciprocal Program are very significant to the Australia-China bilateral relationship. In 2016, some 24 senior Australian and New Zealand officials took part in the China Reciprocal Program, visiting China to learn about policy, economic and social issues impacting upon the nation. Last year, I was thrilled to single out some officials from my Department in Education who participated. This year as I walked in the room I was pleased to see one of the former officials in my former Department of Environment who I had the pleasure of working with – and Malcolm, I’m sure you particularly enjoy your participation in the program.

These very successful programs facilitate greater understanding, awareness, and shared learnings between our countries and develop the strong bonds that we have. During your time as guests in both Australia and in New Zealand, I have no doubt that you will develop and understanding of our respective education systems, as well as our respective democratic systems, their strengths and vast opportunities they provide to share innovation and enhance our already strong relationship. On behalf of the Australian Government, I’m thrilled to extend a very warm welcome to you on day three of your visit, and trust that when you return home you will have gained a great deal of knowledge.

The collaboration that has been developed by ANZSOG over many years is possible because of the high quality, professional, and innovative education systems in part that we have in both China and Australia, and as Education Minister I’ll focus my remarks mainly in that regard. I’ve followed with interest the statements from your Minister for Education, Minister Chen, about China’s vision for its education future, and China’s aim to be a world-class vocational education provider, as well as to have larger numbers of world-class universities and world-class academic disciplines.

China and Australia have the opportunity to work in partnership, to continue to lift the quality of our education systems. Australian universities are already extraordinarily active partners with Chinese universities, delivering joint research programs across more than 20 years. This research is an opportunity for further growth and engagement. Indeed, Australian universities today enjoy more formal agreements and links with their Chinese counterparts than they do with universities from any other nation.

The Australian Government is also providing funding to support the long-running China-Australia higher education cooperation; a university leader’s professional development program, jointly managed by Universities Australia and the Chinese Education Association for International Exchange. This program seeks to boost the number of partnerships between Chinese and, in particular, regional Australian universities, helping to promote regional Australia as a key destination for Chinese students and regional Australian universities as significant collaborative partners.

The broadening of connections between Australian and Chinese universities is strong, and it continues to grow stronger. It will become deeper and even more comprehensive, serving to reinforce the importance of the opportunity being provided to you as part of this year’s CALP delegation, helping to generate stronger two-way knowledge transfers between our countries at every level – from Government, through education systems, into business, across society.

Our collaboration in the area of vocational education and training is already also significant. Earlier this year, Australia and China signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation on skills and vocational education during a visit to Australia by the Chinese Premier. This agreement will enhance mutual understanding between our respective vocational education sectors and foster a stronger bilateral skills environment for stakeholders in our two nations. We’re also committed to seeing the already strong number of Chinese vocational education students enrolled with Australian institutions continue to grow, both here in Australia but also, increasingly, through delivery in partnership in China, deepening engagement on skills training, and of course helping to build capacity, capability and skills in our two nations.

The flow of students from China to Australia, as you will be well aware, continues to flourish. To July of this year, there have been some 202,000 enrolments by Chinese students in Australian education institutions. That puts in some perspective the 24 of you who are visiting at present. Sixty-five per cent of these enrolments have been in the higher education sector. It’s a reflection of the high quality offerings of our education system, for which we are very proud, but for which we also know we have a responsibility to make sure those students have a positive, successful experience in all aspects of their learning, education, training, and time in Australia.

We do want this to be more than a one-way flow of students. That’s why as a Government we’re very proud to offer a suite of student mobility programs to encourage students in Australia to seek international experiences as part of their study. Programs such as the Australia Awards-Endeavour Scholarships, the Endeavour Mobility Grants, and New Colombo Plan are helping many follow their dream of studying in another country.

Under a long-standing partnership, the Australian Government and the Cheung Kong Group also provide students and researchers from Australia and Asia with the opportunity to study overseas through the Endeavour Cheung Kong Research Fellowship and the Endeavour Cheung Kong student exchange program. Recently, we announced the 2017 recipients for the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships program, and next year I’m delighted to say that some 284 Chinese and Australian students will undertake a study experience in each others’ countries thanks to Australian Government support, including 19 students in China who will come to Australia as part of the co-funded program with the Cheung Kong Group.

Twenty-nine students have also been awarded the Endeavour Scholarship or Fellowship to study abroad, including 25 Chinese students on scholarship or fellowship to come to study in Australia. Under our New Colombo Plan, we are working hard through Australian universities to ensure more Australian students can study with their partner universities in China. Indeed, China is the most popular destination in the New Colombo Plan for Australian students. Since 2014, more than 4700 Australian students have been supported through the New Colombo Plan to undertake enhanced studies in China. This represents both Australia’s keen interest in and appreciation of China’s culture and society; the strong links between our university and education systems, and our desire as a Government to encourage our universities, our educational institutions, and our students to make those links even stronger.

The Australian Government and the education sector values the social, economic and cultural benefits that international student mobility brings. It is reflected in our first ever National Strategy for International Education. It is demonstrated, pleasingly, by the very high levels of student satisfaction, with Chinese students telling us overwhelmingly that they are pleased with their learning experiences in Australia. However, we do not take our reputation for providing a welcoming studying environment for granted. We will work constantly to ensure that students feel happy and secure in Australia and are encouraged to participate in learning and culture and share their cultural experiences among fellow students and new friends in Australia.

I want to extend my personal thanks to His Excellency Ambassador Cheng for the strong and cooperative discussions he has had with our government, and with me in particular, as we work together to ensure that we continue to strengthen the student experience for all students studying in Australia and the bilateral relationship between China and Australia. These kinds of opportunities, our strong educational collaboration and student mobility arrangements, are the result of strong government-to-government connections. Such collaboration is of course enhanced by programs such as yours and your participation. It will be strengthened into the future, and help to manage the transitions that will come with the close relationship and an evolving partnership that we have between two proud, sovereign and successful nations.

In closing, I’d like to thank you all for your contribution to strengthening our government-to-government ties, and through that our educational, cultural, business ties. I hope your time in Australia proves to be one that provides great memories, as well as enhanced knowledge. I have no doubt that together those who have participated in this exchange will enhance and create an even stronger partnership in the future. We are delighted to support your visit. We thank you for taking your time and effort to undertake it, and we hope that you return home not only with enhanced knowledge, but as I said, with some of those fine bottles of South Australian wine too. Thank you very much.