Australian Mission to ASEAN

The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) Annual Symposium: Australia and ASEAN

The International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) Annual Symposium: Australia and ASEAN (as delivered)

Ms Jane Duke, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN

23 August 2017, Jakarta, Indonesia


Thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today Australia’s education partnerships with ASEAN.  

As Prime Minister Turnbull said in his recent Shangri-La Dialogue address:

ASEAN embodies opportunity in our region. It is the region’s strategic convenor. It has used its influence, over time, to support and maintain the rule of law. ASEAN has sought to shape a region in which might is not right and where inclusiveness is the norm. It has helped create an environment in which GDP has more than tripled in real terms in less than two decades.

As a bloc, ASEAN is currently Australia’s third largest trading partner accounting for 15% of Australia’s total trade. In 2015-16, two-way trade totalled $93 billion while two-way investment reached $224 billion. Its economy of US$2.5 trillion makes it around the world’s sixth largest.

With its large and growing population of 630 million people, young working age population and rising middle class, it has the right metrics to underpin its prospects for continuing economic dynamism. And Australia is well positioned to benefit form and contribute to this growth.  

Australia’s links to ASEAN through education go back decades. Education is a central pillar of our connection with the region. Even before the Colombo Plan started in the 1950s, students from ASEAN countries have come in large numbers to study in Australian institutions. Today, close to 20 percent of all international students in Australia – over 100,000 students this year alone- are from ASEAN.

Australia sees our ASEAN alumni as instrumental to our strong relationships in the region. Many ASEAN leaders have been educated in Australia- including President Tony Tan of Singapore, Thailand’s King Maha Vajjiralongkorn and Indonesia’s Dr Marty Natalegawa. Students that study in Australia establish important relationships and networks that last a lifetime. They develop an understanding of our institutions and regulatory frameworks. This in turn has helped foster our political, trade and economic ties in the region. Australia’s scholarships are also a strategic asset for us. ASEAN highly values the scholarships Australia has offered for decades in the region, continually reiterating their appreciation for this aspect of our partnership.

The New Colombo Plan, a signature program of Foreign Minister Bishop, has helped build on our long history of education ties to the region. In just four years, the New Colombo Plan has supported nearly 8,000 Australian undergraduates to undertake programs in ASEAN countries, developing new skills, ideas, perspectives and inspiration. Over 3,000 students will be supported through the New Colombo Plan in ASEAN in 2017, which will double to 6,000 in 2018.

In addition to embedding an understanding of Asia in our students, the New Colombo Plan is helping to foster new and deepened institutional collaboration between Australia and ASEAN member countries. A diverse network of regional university partnerships is crucial to enabling thousands of young Australians to study in the region under the program and in achieving enduring linkages with our neighbours. Almost all (40) Australian universities are collaborating with universities in ASEAN countries to deliver the New Colombo Plan. 156 ASEAN organisations have offered internships to Australian students, including private sector companies, NGOs and government organisations. It is worth highlighting that the NCP program is very warmly received in the region, building on the success of our existing scholarships programs.

Australia’s strong historical education ties with the region, together with our experience in providing quality education internationally, positions Australian education and training providers to assist ASEAN in reaching its education and skills goals.

In terms of the options available to Australian providers in the region, Professor McIntyre’s speech was very informative on the different models for the delivery of transnational education (namely branch campus delivery, partnered delivery or distance delivery).

The trend towards “glocal students” is particularly interesting- that is students who want a globally recognised education and qualification without having to leave their home country (and incur substantial costs). Australian providers have answered this global trend in the region. RMIT was the first foreign university to establish a campus in Vietnam. Monash, Swinburne and Curtin Universities all have campuses in Malaysia. This model is also used by VET providers like “Site Skills Training” which has opened a facility in the Philippines offering a range of Australian and internationally recognised best practice training, assessment and competency assurance services for the oil and gas, mining, construction industries.

But of course as Professor McIntyre noted, establishing a campus in ASEAN countries is costly and takes time. So partnered delivery can also be a very effective option. The William Angliss Institute’s partnership with Malaysia's Berjaya University College of Hospitality in Kuala Lumpur is a good example of this type of offering. I would agree with his point that, distance education also has a lot of potential as a model for delivery of our services in the region. 

Australia’s research and development partnerships are another key element of our partnership with ASEAN. R&D is an important component of a knowledge-based economy. Although research capacity varies across ASEAN, in the region as a whole, there are growing opportunities for international research collaboration. Austrade reports that Australia has some 400 research linkages in Indonesia alone. Many of ASEAN’s key research priorities resonate with Australian research priorities, including in food and agriculture, energy and biodiversity and health and medicine. A great example of this is the recent announcement that Flinders University will partner with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore on the university’s successful Medical Device Partnering Program.

ASEAN recognises it needs to address its significant Productivity and Skills challenges if it is to continue its impressive economic growth trajectory. Recent academic research suggests that, based on current trends, more than half of all high skills employment in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam could be filled by workers with insufficient qualifications by 2025. In Indonesia and Myanmar alone, there is a projected under supply of 9 million skilled and 13 million semi-skilled workers by 2030. Interestingly, a 2014 survey of ASEAN employers by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that the most widely needed training was in soft skills such as management and leadership.  

And with more than 65 per cent of ASEAN’s population is under the age of 35, the demand for skills and training in the region is significant and growing. Public perceptions of Australia as an education provider position us well to serve those needs. In 2015 Austrade commissioned quantitative research on how ASEAN views Australia. The results showed that ASEAN sees us as a high quality education provider, offering services less expensive than our US and UK counterparts in a more appealing location.

But of course, ASEAN is not an EU-style single market. The educations and skills needs of its 10 individual member states vary widely. Singapore and Malaysia lead the way in transnational education and are involved in a significant number of international partnerships. Malaysia is becoming a destination for international education with 135,000 international students enrolled in its tertiary education institutions. On the other hand you have markets like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar where educational attainment rates are well below the other member states.

For providers looking to expand in ASEAN, in addition to researching the needs of your particular market, you are also likely to need a reputable and knowledgeable local partner. And you will need to be in it for the long haul. It takes time to build relationships in ASEAN and it is unusual to be able to enter a new and complex market and expect instant profitability.

And of course service providers also need to keep informed on the broader regional policy agenda--- where ASEAN’s economic integration is headed.

ASEAN has a clear policy framework for education, underpinned by the ASEAN Work Plan on Education 2016-2020 which sets out commitments towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda for 2030.

ASEAN’s key economic integration policies have significant education and skills agendas. ASEAN’s Connectivity Masterplan (MPAC 2025) highlights people mobility as one of five strategic areas to achieve ASEAN’s connectivity vision and aims to support higher education exchange as well as private sector-led vocational training.  

The Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) Workplan 3, ASEAN’s signature policy to narrow the development gap, sets out plans to assist CLMV countries to move towards the educational attainment rates of the ASEAN 6 including through teacher training and school attendance programs.

These MPAC and IAI initiatives of course support ASEAN’s work towards the Sustainable Development Goals and both are supported by Australia.

ASEAN also has plans to improve qualifications systems in the region. The number of higher education providers in ASEAN is expanding—with more than 6500 higher education institutions and 12 million students across the ASEAN region. And most of the growth in higher education has been in the private sector, raising concerns about quality assurance in some countries. One step towards ensuring robust qualifications systems is the establishment of the ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (AQRF). The AQRF is a common reference framework that enables comparisons of education qualifications across participating ASEAN Member States. It aims to promote understanding of qualifications and recognition processes within ASEAN through comparison and transparency. The AQRF is largely based on the principles of the Australian Qualifications Framework and the goal is that in the longer term, the AQRF will promote enhanced labour mobility both within ASEAN and internationally.

In terms of engaging with ASEAN on education policy, there are also a couple of other upcoming dialogues to note.

The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit will bring ASEAN Leaders to Australia in March 2018 and will be themed “Enhancing Regional Security and Prosperity”. The Special Summit is an unprecedented opportunity to reinforce Australia’s commitment to strengthening our partnership with ASEAN. A Business Summit will be held in conjunction with the Summit. The Business Summit will bring together business leaders from ASEAN and Australia, discussing key opportunities and challenges in the region including on the skills and education front. The Business Summit will have an SME Conference targeting Australian SMEs and a CEO Roundtables event that will report key outcomes to Leaders. 

Following the Special Summit in Sydney, Australia is supporting the inaugural ASEAN-Australia International Education Dialogue to be held in Malaysia (21-23 March 2018). The dialogue will target key education and training stakeholders with the goal of further strengthening the ASEAN-Australia education partnership. Representatives from each sector will discuss key challenges and opportunities and propose an action plan for that sector towards 2030. Recommendations will be aligned with ASEAN commitments through its Work Plan on Education (2016-2020).

In closing, as Australia’s strategic partnership with ASEAN goes from strength to strength, so too does our sector specific opportunity to partner with ASEAN in education. The strength of our education ties is one of Australia’s biggest comparative advantages. It opens doors and the connections are long-lasting and trans-generational. The education and skills agenda will be a crucial factor as ASEAN moves to the next stage of its economic integration project. And Australia will continue to be an important partner in this journey.