Thursday, 16 June 2016

Chinese Government Slashes Red Tape For Scientific Researchers In Universities

China Association for Science and Technology
The Chinese government will cut red tape in science and research funding by removing unnecessary administrative barriers for universities and research institutions so as to better stimulate the enthusiasm of academics.

Arrangements of the upcoming improvement were decided during the State Council's executive meeting on Wednesday, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang.

"The best universities made their achievements with the enduring endeavors and enthusiasm of their research fellows and teachers, not by regulating rigidly," Li said. "Thus, it is important to harness the potential of researchers and teachers."

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed a conference organized by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology (CAST), stressing the importance of scientific research.

"Currently, the state needs the strategic support of science and technology more urgently than any other time in the past," Xi said.

Also speaking at the conference, Premier Li stressed that "scientific innovation needs to be boosted through institutional reform."

The premier has reiterated the idea that outdated administrative barriers to scientific research should be removed to boost potential and achieve innovation, as well as improve total factor productivity.

In his recent instruction to the CAST's innovation campaign, released on Tuesday, Li called for efforts to boost passion and vision in science and technology and better translate progress in that area into social and economic development.

"We need to acknowledge scientific researchers' contributions and learn from some developed countries that perform well in this regard. Raising financial rewards for researchers is a sign of acknowledgment," Li said while speaking to scientists and researchers at the Monday conference.

The upcoming measures mean that research funds will be granted under fewer administrative procedures and a more flexible way of using research funds is encouraged. The amended regulation calls for a professional finance system so that researchers can focus on research and will not be distracted by procedures.

Universities and research institutions will also be given more freedom in purchasing equipment for research purposes.

Proportional limits on service fees (or financial rewards) for researchers will be completely removed. Financial rewards for researchers were raised from the previous no more than 5 percent to no more than 20 percent of direct expenses after deduction of equipment procurement cost under the amended regulation.

Also, all participants in research projects, including graduate students and visiting scholars, will be eligible to get paid.

Complicated requirements regarding travel reimbursement, such as invoices, during traveling and attending conferences have long been a headache for researchers. A number of rigid rules exist in this regard, creating problems for researchers in carrying out field work and inviting research fellows for academic conferences.

Under the new regulation, reimbursement for business trips and holding academic conferences will be more convenient. Universities will be allowed to create their own regulations regarding reimbursement for traveling expenses, ensuring that researchers won't be burdened by invoice procedures while carrying out field research and attending conferences.

During the Wednesday meeting, Li urged the departments and ministries concerned to revise improper regulations based on the discussions at the meeting, and to ensure that policies from the State Council are fully implemented on the ground. He stressed that this is to make sure that the amended regulation and policy will truly bring benefits and convenience to researchers.

The premier has frequently pointed out such problems while visiting research institutions and universities. During his visit to Tsinghua University in April, he asked how research funds are used while talking with Shi Yigong, dean of the School of Life Sciences at Tsinghua who spent years doing research in the United States.

Li pointed out there is still a gap between China and leading nations of higher education, and that China's rules are too rigid for granting research funds, making China less attractive to first-class talent.

Heads of several universities in Beijing and government departments concerned attending Wednesday's meeting were delighted at the new regulation, saying it will help solve long-existing problems that have burdened universities, and will help generate greater enthusiasm for researchers and increase efficiency.

The State Council and ministries in charge will continue to monitor the implementation of the new policy.

China has 81 million science and technology workers. They are known as the "backbone" of the country's innovation-driven development strategy.

Chinese Billionaire Launches World's Biggest Education Prize. Tagged "Yidan Prize"

Yidan Prize For Education,Research And Development Launch
Teachers and educationists from around the world will be able to compete for the world’s biggest education prize worth more than £5m

A Chinese internet billionaire has launched the world's biggest education prize worth more than £5m in Hong Kong today.

The award, called the Yidan Prize, will recognise “outstanding” individuals, such as teachers, or teams of people working in education, providing them with substantial investment to fund their projects.

The initiative is the brainchild of Charles Chen Yidan – a tech billionaire, who co-founded one of the world’s biggest websites, Tencent, which provides social networks and other internet services in China.

The  £5.2m prize money will be split into two categories, the Yidan Prize for Education Research and the Yidan Prize for Education Development.

Each prize will total £2.6 million, with half given as a cash lump sum and the remaining half handed out over three years to finance the winners’ projects.

The award is aiming to become the Nobel Prize for education, and will challenge the Global Teacher Prize as the world’s biggest education award, which hands $1m to an exceptional teacher every year.

Mr Chen said the prize will recognise and support “agents of change” in education, and will help tackle the most significant education challenges facing the world over the coming years.

“It is intended to ignite constructive and inclusive dialogue around education,” Mr Chen said in a press conference in Hong Kong.

“The world is facing the fourth industrial era, which is defined by humans’ interface with computers – are we ready to face that future? The world needs a big idea and that is why we have set up this prize to create many big ideas to create a better world.”

To launch the award, the Yidan Prize Foundation commissioned a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit to make series of educational forecasts in 25 different economies up until 2030.

The research predicted and then ranked each country’s performance across five categories by 2030: expenditure on education, affordability of tertiary education, youth unemployment, Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates in the labour market and internet access in schools.

The results ranked the UK 10th out of 25 countries in terms of its predicted spending on education by 2030 behind the likes of France, Norway and Finland.

Britain was placed as 15th in terms of youth unemployment forecasts, making it one of the worst performers among developed nations, but better than France and Finland.

It is expected to come in the top 10 for internet access in schools and the percentage of Stem graduates in the workforce, but is predicted to be one of the worst developed economies for its affordability of tertiary education. Only the US is predicted to be more expensive for students in terms of its higher education costs. 

Nominations for the £5m prize will open in June this year. The inaugural winner of the Yidan Prize will be announced in September 2017, and a prize giving ceremony will take place in December of that year.

Two Of Paris Most Prestogious University Agree On Merger For Greater Prospective

Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris
Two of the most prestigious universities in Paris have agreed to merge by 1 January 2018. The newly elected boards of Paris-Sorbonne and Pierre and Marie Curie universities voted last week to formally commit to the plan following the re-election of pro-merger presidents at both institutions.

The new combined university will bring together Pierre and Marie Curie University or UPMC, one of France’s leading scientific and medical research-based institutions, and Paris-Sorbonne University, which has an international reputation for top quality teaching in the humanities and social sciences.

Together the new university will have 55,000 students, including doctoral students, and 6,600 academic staff.

The Paris merger plan was presented to an international academic panel on Tuesday 26 April set up by the French government to oversee the country’s grand Excellence Initiative.

The initiative is part of a government drive to create up to 10 mega French universities, or federations, capable of competing with the best in the world. Mergers have already taken place in major provincial centres such as Marseilles, Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Grenoble.

Biggest shake-up in 45 years

Professor Jean Chambaz, president of UPMC, also known as Paris 6, and his counterpart at Paris-Sorbonne, or Paris 4, Professor Barthélémy Jobert, both hailed the commitment to the merger from staff and students in what will be the biggest shake-up of higher education in the French capital for 45 years.

Chambaz told Reporters: “One of the biggest limitations of French universities came over four decades ago when they separated along disciplinary lines.

“One had all sciences, another only the humanities, another just law and economics.

“UPMC was created from the science and medical faculties of the old Sorbonne, the University of Paris, which split in 1970.”

“Paris-Sorbonne had the arts and humanities.

“But to address the challenges of the world, like climate change, we need to build a comprehensive university containing all these disciplines.

“In some ways we are recreating the old Sorbonne, but for the 21st century,” said Chambaz.

Jobert said Paris-Sorbonne University was equally enthusiastic about creating a powerful global research and teaching public university in central Paris covering all disciplines and capable of rivalling the best universities in the world.

New model of French university

He told Reporters the new institution would be more than just merging two universities.

“Success will be creating a new model of a global university in France, with independent autonomous faculties as well as a presidency who will speak for the whole university.”

“The new model will see the deans in charge of the day-to-day running of the faculties and the new president responsible for strategic matters and the policies of the university as a whole, especially raising international profile.

“It is quite a radical step for France, which has been ranked near the bottom in terms of higher education autonomy by the European University Association.

“In many ways, we are fortunate in being able to benefit from the experience of the mergers so far in Marseilles and elsewhere in France.

“But we have also looked abroad at other mergers, such as those in Manchester in the UK, Berlin and the creation of Aalto University in Finland, for inspiration.”

The French government has already established an endowment of €900 million (US$1 billion) to support the merger process, but is leaving the details of the process to the universities involved.

UPMC and Paris-Sorbonne are part of one of the university communes supported by the French government to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between institutions.

Known as the Sorbonne University group, this includes the University of Technology of Compiègne and a school of law and economics, Panthéon-Assas University, which may consider joining the new merged university later.

No name has yet been decided for the new university created from UPMC and Paris-Sorbonne, but both presidents say the name is likely to include the word ‘Sorbonne’ as it is such a strong global brand.

As for who will be in charge of the new institution, both presidents told Reporters that it could be either or neither of them.

Jobert said: “We are both equally committed to creating the new university, so that is not an issue at this stage.”

Chambaz said working parties are being set up to steer the merger process and ensure the involvement of all staff and students.

“We do not expect any redundancies and as we are both within ten minutes' walk of each other there are no plans to relocate the campus. There is no need and we like where we are in central Paris,” he said.

The French government’s ministry of higher education and research is expected to endorse the merger in a decree in January or February next year and the new university is expected to be created in January 2018.

European Union To Fund Hundreds Of Scholarships For Syrian Refugees

Higher Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians
French, German, Dutch and United Kingdom organisations supporting international cooperation in higher education are administering a new programme funded by the European Union to facilitate access to education for Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The HOPES – Higher and Further Education Opportunities and Perspectives for Syrians – programme is to provide 400 scholarships for refugee students from Syria in neighbouring recipient countries. The programme also includes English classes for 400 students as well as educational counselling for a further 42,000.

In addition, small grants will be available for credit-based short preparatory courses and to boost other innovative measures introduced by universities in the region.

Funded via the European Union’s Madad Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, set up in 2014, HOPES is to be administered by the German Academic Exchange Service or DAAD, the British Council, Campus France and the Netherlands EP-Nuffic organisation for international cooperation in higher education.

The EU has provided an initial €12 million (US$13.7 million) for the next three years. HOPES funding can be augmented by third-party contributions.

The British Council says for its part it will be responsible for working with local ministries of higher education and universities in each country to develop university-based English language and study skills courses to enable Syrian students to enter higher education institutions.

In a recruitment advertisement for a ‘project expert’ for the programme, it says the project will also seek to decrease the tuition fees of partners' organisations for Syrian students, support policy dialogue and lead knowledge and experience sharing across the targeted countries. There will be an English language teaching expert attached to each country and a part-time online adviser to provide assistance as part of the project.

The project will also develop, in consultation with the EU and local universities, a certificated Leadership and Management Development Programme for selected successor generation leaders in the partner universities and ministries, the British Council says.

The programme considers academic potential among applicants but also seeks to create opportunities for disadvantaged refugee families. It is to cooperate closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Margret Wintermantel, president of DAAD, said: “We are going to create sustainable perspectives for Syrian refugees in the recipient countries with measures tailored to their educational needs. There will be an urgent requirement for such people with skills once the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Syria is underway.”

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Danish Government Ordered Review Of Framework For Universities On Employability

Danish Ministry of Education
The government has ordered a review of the regulatory framework for universities to see how well higher education prepares young people for work options. It will look at how the legal framework and the development contracts of universities are supporting the political objectives of high quality and will examine the relevance of higher education provision.

Ulla Tørnæs, the minister of higher education and science, says "The current regulatory framework for our higher education institutions were developed and put in place 10-15 years ago. It has in many ways been a success. But we must constantly ask ourselves: Can we do it better? Do we need better regulatory frameworks to meet the challenges of today?”

She said challenges include “the mismatch apparent by the fact that a number of study programmes have high unemployment rates while in other fields our businesses are lacking skills of the highly educated”.

She said: “That is why I have launched a review of the regulatory framework. As part of the review we will ask the higher education institutions ‘What works well?’, ‘What works less well?’.”

Previously she wrote in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-posten that an important part of the review will be an “external mapping of the experiences and perspectives of the higher education institutions”.

This message was further elaborated upon in a meeting between the ministry and the higher education sector at Hotel Koldingfjord on 28-29 April, where the minister gave the introductory speech on “The need for a better match between education and work”.

A background document prepared by the ministry illustrated seven basic facts in higher education: the number of students 2010-14; unemployment and match 2009-12; study intensity distributed by different higher educations; study intensity and higher education quality – a survey; European Credit Transfer System points and study intensity; dropout 2010-14 and interaction between teaching staff and students distributed by kind of higher education.

Work in private companies

“The message is crystal clear,” the document said, repeating the prognosis of the Productivity Commission: “Towards 2030 the number of persons with higher education will increase by 40% compared to 2013. That equals 340,000 people.

“Up to now half of the degree holders in higher education have been employed in the public sector. In the future, this will be reduced to 25%, and the rest will have to find work in the private sector. That means that every year towards 2030 15,000 people have to find work in private companies.”

Tørnæs said in her introductory speech in Koldingfjord: “In the 60 days that have passed since I became minister, I have received many interesting ideas and proposals. I would like to mention one. Both universities and industry have asked for more flexible masters studies – studies where the student can study part-time for the masters degree, and at the same time work.

“I see these masters candidates as one investment that can contribute to greater correspondence between education and the working life.”

FORSKERforum, the Danish researchers’ magazine, published a story with the headline ”Service monitoring: More political governance of universities?”, suggesting Tørnæs and the heads of the ministry will ask a consulting firm like Deloitte or McKinsey to do a ‘service review’ of Danish universities. It asked whether the underlying motive was to introduce “more effective governing of universities”.

Professor Jacob Torfing from Roskilde University, told the magazine: “If the politicians are rewarding the productivity improvement at [Danish] universities over the past decade with more control and governance from above, this will create an enormous demotivation in the university world with serious consequences for the society.”

'Over-monitored and over-regulated'

Mike Young, editor of University Post, University of Copenhagen, told University World News that Danish universities “already see themselves as over-monitored and over-regulated – and not just from the present government. Now the ministry is again asking for universities' cooperation and enthusiasm. Universities will not like it.”

But Anders Bjarklev, chair of Danske Universiteter, the Danish Rectors’ Conference, said in last month’s newsletter that universities welcome the review.

“Already in 2014 Danish universities themselves started extensive work to find areas where the university sector could reduce bureaucracy. That has resulted in 144 proposals that we have sent to the new higher education and science minister,” he said.

Reviewing governance should not lead to more governance, monitoring and detailed regulation of the universities, he added.

“There are sufficient such mechanisms already – let me mention only the study progress reform, the institutional accreditation, development contracts and the common accounting plan.”

Professor Ivar Bleiklie of the University of Bergen, who was a member of the Danish Quality Commission that delivered several reports on how to improve the quality of Danish higher education in 2014 and 2015, said Denmark would be breaking new ground by measuring how well higher education serves the labour market as a quality indicator.

But he questioned whether this task should be transferred to Deloitte or McKinsey instead of the government doing such work itself, since there is not much evidence supporting the idea that market actors do this better than traditional government agencies.

David Palfreyman, the bursar and a fellow of New College, University of Oxford, UK, and director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, who was a keynote speaker at the dialogue meeting at Hotel Koldingfjord, presenting on ”Trends and challenges in higher education today”, told University World News: “It looks like Denmark is tackling the issue of accountability of universities for their use of public money, and hence questions arise of just what they contribute to graduate employability, and over their efficiency.”

'No simple answers'

“This is happening in almost every country and, of course, there are no simple answers.”

He said his view is that universities when created were far more utilitarian than some now like to be and that 'marketisation' within higher education is 'a good thing' – the university and its professors “must descend from the Ivory Tower on the Acropolis and get grubby in the Agora!”

But he said that the market has to be regulated by government so as to protect the student-consumer – a mechanism he has further discussed with Ted Tapper in Reshaping the University: The rise of the regulated market in higher education (Oxford University Press, 2014), which he said was “seemingly one of UK Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson’s favourite books in 2015”.

Nigeria Public Universities Move To Contain Spreading Student Protests

Academic Staff Union of Universities
Public universities in Nigeria that remain open have been advised to urgently begin semester examinations in an attempt to contain the spread of student protest action that has swept across public sector institutions over the past few weeks.

Students have been protesting over a lack of electricity and water as well as tuition fee increases. At least one student has died as a result of a violent clash with police and several campuses have been shut.

According to reliable sources, visitors of both federal and regional public universities have advised vice-chancellors of universities that are still open to organise exams quickly, with a view to requesting students to then go home for a short mid-term break.

The measures aim to prevent students in other tertiary education institutions from mimicking their peers and embarking on similar action. Visitors of closed campuses have also compelled university authorities to suspend student unionism in an attempt to counter attempts by students to pursue agitation outside campuses.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari – visitor to 31 universities – last month mandated Nasir Sa'idu Adhama, his special assistant on student affairs, to meet with the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, the National Association of Nigerian Students and officials of the federal ministry with a view to preventing protests from snowballing into a broader movement with potential participation from civil society.

Since the 2016 national budget was recently approved by Buhari, campuses may remain closed owing to lack of budgeted funds with which to resolve the issues students have raised, which include a deterioration of living and working conditions on campuses, lack of constant electricity and water supply, and increases in tuition fees under the guise of ‘municipal fees’.

Adhama announced the establishment of a “high-powered fact-finding team” to work with agencies and affected institutions to “ascertain the immediate causes of the crises and proffer solutions”.

The protests

The first campus to commence protests in early April this year was Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, after a series of unfulfilled promises that basic amenities would improve. To avert a breakdown of law and order, university authorities closed the campus and forced students to go home.

With assistance from social media networks, the Obafemi Awolowo protest became a subject of open debate on other campuses.

Students perceived similarities in the call for improved basic amenities. Unhappiness was compounded by a drastic fall in electricity supply throughout the country and a growing scarcity of petroleum products.

Within the space of two weeks, the University of Lagos and the University of Ibadan were closed. Benue State University, the University of Port Harcourt and Adekunle Ajasin University followed.

Protests have generally been peaceful and have not spread to the streets with the exception of the University of Port Harcourt, where protests over increased tuition fees spilled onto a major highway passing through the campus.

One student lost his life during a violent clash there between police and students.

Academics wade in

In reaction to the closure of campuses, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, or ASUU, said a lack of funds and political will to resolve basic infrastructural problems were fundamental reasons for the crisis.

ASUU President Dr Nasir Fagge said that despite an agreement to increase education funding, only 8% of the total 2016 budget was allocated to the entire education sector.

“This percentage is contrary to the agreement of ASUU with government, which states clearly that the government would progressively increase the budgetary allocation to 26% as recommended by UNESCO.

“Moreover, ASUU notes that this paltry allocation runs contrary to the intent of government to give free higher education to students of science and technology at the tertiary education level,” he said.

According to Fagge, the allocation to education is skewed in favour of federal government secondary schools and the federal ministry of education headquarters. “The cumulative capital appropriation to federal secondary schools is 230% higher than that of tertiary institutions.”

Fagge said the patience of ASUU members was running out. Government insincerity, in the light of its 2013 agreement with ASUU, was beginning to dampen the morale of academics countrywide and “may threaten the fragile industrial peace on our university campuses if government fails to act expeditiously”.

Commenting on the student unrest and a threat of industrial action by ASUU, industrial relations expert Josephine Omololu said the Nigerian political class was the main architect of the troubles affecting campuses.

She cited Professor Oyewale Tomori, president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, that 500 politicians appropriate 25% of the resources meant for more than 200 million Nigerians.

Hong Kong University In Row Over Undeclared Offshore Companies

Hong Kong Polytechnic University
University officials at Hong Kong Polytechnic University – a publicly funded institution – have been scrambling to explain its use of companies registered in secretive offshore tax havens, after revelations in the Panama Papers that it set up two companies offshore to channel funds.

The university, known locally as PolyU, had not declared in any of its financial reports that it set up two companies in the British Virgin Islands, or BVI, in 2012 and 2013 as wholly owned subsidiaries of the university, raising questions about its financial transparency and reporting.

PolyU’s president, Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, admitted in an email to staff last week that the use of such firms were never mentioned in any annual financial reports, but he insisted the use of offshore firms was legitimate.

The “purpose and process” was legitimate and had been approved by members of the university council, he said, adding the university’s council chairman at that time and the committee on knowledge transfer under the council were informed of the decision to set up the offshore subsidiaries.

“Please rest assured that the decision of using a BVI company arrangement had been carefully reviewed by the management and vetted by an advisory committee comprising external members, and with advice from a reputable external law firm,” said Tong in the email to staff, leaked by Hong Kong’s English language newspaper, South China Morning Post.

Although the use of offshore companies is not illegal in Hong Kong, questions have been raised about the standard of the university’s financial reporting and compliance. Chu Wai-chi, chairman of the Polytechnic University Staff Association, said a responsible institution should disclose offshore firms for public scrutiny.

Joint venture

Tong has said the use of the offshore companies was not disclosed in PolyU financial statements because of the “insignificant value of the investments”.

However, Franco Wong Chak-hang, president of the PolyU students’ union, said the university management had "still failed to explain why this could not be done with a local firm”.

Tong also defended the use of the offshore firms as a way to “insulate PolyU from risks” arising from a business in which the university was “no longer actively involved”.

The business referred to is the subject of some controversy. Local newspapers digging into the Panama Papers found that one of the BVI firms set up by PolyU known as PolyU Enterprises, helped transfer a large amount of the university’s share in a joint venture to a pro-Beijing businessman Choi Koon-shum, who is a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the Beijing government.

Choi, the president of Sun Wah Group – a Hong Kong-based trading conglomerate – had been a member of the PolyU council and donated around US$2 million to the university in 2003.

The transfers did not involve public money. However, questions are also being asked about the role, revealed in the Panama Papers, of Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, now the Hong Kong government’s secretary for innovation and technology.

In his previous role as PolyU’s executive vice-president, Yang signed the BVI registration document, and was the CEO of PolyU Enterprises. The documents surfaced in the Panama Papers of law firm Mossack Fonseca which has shed light on the secretive use of offshore companies.

Yang has told local media the arrangement was “part of my work as the then executive vice-president of the university to manage its administration, which involves nothing improper”.

The Hong Kong government has not responded to calls by local lawmakers to investigate the university and others named in the Panama Papers.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which revealed in early April that it had access to some 11.5 million Mossack Fonseca documents, has said Hong Kong was the Panamanian law firm’s most active office – almost a third of the companies the law firm was collecting fees for were based in Hong Kong and China.

Other universities   

In the wake of the PolyU revelations, the University of Hong Kong, or HKU, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, or CUHK, voluntarily revealed their own use of offshore firms.

However, unlike PolyU, CUHK has consistently reported this in its financial reports. It said the decision to set up in BVI was approved by the governing council.

CUHK said it had held a dormant, unprofitable BVI firm named HKIX Hong Kong Ltd since 2000. “The original purpose was to take advantage of the flexibility” in order to transfer shares for technology transfer spin-offs that might attract the interest of international investors, according to a statement to local newspapers.

HKU has said it owned five BVI firms, two of them set up in 2000 to hold 11.7% shares in an unnamed biotechnology company. The offshore firms had been dormant for some years, the university said.

Three other firms were set up by Versitech, a not-for-profit technology transfer arm owned wholly by HKU. Only two are still in operation, holding 20% shares in medical services companies.
Only one of the five BVI firms was mentioned in HKU’s annual reports.

Australia Government Unveil Blueprint To Expand International Education

National strategy for international education 2025
The government has released a 10-year blueprint for expansion of its international education sector with the aim of making Australia a global leader in education, training and research. It places a heavy emphasis on expanding transnational education through online courses.

Under the blueprint the government has launched three strategies – the National Strategy for International Education 2025; the Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy and the Australian International Education 2025, or AIE2025, market development roadmap.

The National Strategy for International Education 2025 is based on:

    Strengthening the fundamentals across the education system, which includes delivering the best possible student experience and providing effective quality assurance and regulation;

    Building transformative partnerships linking people, institutions and governments, which includes strengthening partnerships at home and abroad, enhancing mobility, and building lasting connections with alumni; and

    Competing globally through strengthening the brand, coordination and reputation within international education, which includes promoting Australia’s excellence and embracing opportunities to grow international education.

The strategy document says Australia is the third most popular destination for international tertiary students and will look for new ways to “deliver and improve support services, affordable and convenient accommodation and public transport” and will also “facilitate work opportunities”. International students can work while studying and apply for a work visa following completion of their study.

To implement the strategy, Senator Richard Colbeck, minister for tourism and international education, has announced the creation of a new Council for International Education, whose members will include Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, and Phil Honeywood, chief executive officer of the International Education Association of Australia.

The government will spend A$12 million (US$8.8 million) over four years from 2016-17 on its implementation.

“The intent of the strategy is to ensure Australia remains a leader in the provision of education services to overseas students. Australia already has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of our education and research; however, to fully realise our potential we must be both strategic and ambitious.

“To achieve this, we must build on our existing education, training and research strengths, to deliver high quality, innovative products and services to students that meet or exceed their expectations. This will enable us to withstand increasing competition and sustainably grow our market share.”

He stressed that although traditional forms of education will remain in high demand there are new and emerging forms of education where there are significant opportunities for both students and providers. These include blended delivery models, online professional development, and offshore and edu-tourism opportunities.

Market development roadmap

The market development roadmap sets out the government’s aspiration to capitalise on the expected increase in the global market by 2025 to one billion students actively seeking education and skills, as predicted by analysis by Deloitte Access Economics.

Based on these projections the onshore sector may be capable of increasing from nearly 500,000 students today to 720,000 by 2025. The roadmap says in a “high market-share scenario” these numbers could even double to nearly 990,000 by 2025.

“Beyond this, in the relatively untapped borderless skills market of… online and blended delivery there are projected to be in excess of one billion students around the world. Reaching just 10% of the market would translate to over 110 million students in 2025.”

It says major demographic shifts, coupled with significant restructuring in the global economy mean that the scale of the international education market is likely to increase dramatically. At the same time technology and market liberalisation open up opportunities to pursue the “broader conceptual opportunity” of the “borderless 2025 student”, suggesting there will be a clear emphasis on increasing transnational education.

The roadmap says 2025 students will be far more mobile, diverse and flexible in their careers than ever as digital disruption continues to redesign industries. “Australian institutions are already responding to these skills gaps by partnering with business to build specific learning pathways through online competency-based education,” it says.

Curiously, however, there are few specifics on the roadmap. Written in breathlessly aspirational and dizzyingly abstract prose, the document talks vaguely of creating “game changers”, competing at scale, embracing border-less learning, and unleashing technology, preceded by a dark warning that the sector “must disrupt or be disrupted”.

Global alumni engagement strategy

In a similar vein, the Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy says more than 2.5 million international students have studied in Australia over the past five decades and together with the students currently studying overseas they make up Australia’s 'Global Alumni Community'.

These alumni are “current and future leaders, influencers and change-makers” and the strategy aims to “unlock their full potential” by connecting them to each other, mobilising engagement with alumni and celebrating the achievements of alumni.

However, the strategy as elaborated so far seems to amount principally to the development of online communities through the Australia Global Alumni website, which features events and alumni stories and the career-oriented online network, LinkedIn.

The national strategy suggests most of the growth in demand for international education will continue to come from China and India and other East and Southeast Asian markets including the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

According to Colbeck, collaboration and partnerships are a key focus of this strategy. “They can afford tremendous opportunity for expansion into markets that otherwise might be prohibitive, enabling smaller providers to achieve scale and broaden their education offerings,” he said.

“There is also a role they can play in promoting a continuum of education, encouraging students to progress through the Australian education system, transitioning from school to higher education or vocational qualifications or between providers."

He stressed that the majority of the strategy will be driven by the education sector, but there is a clear role for government in facilitating growth of Australian international education by ensuring, where there are interacting policy levers, such as with student visas and settings in trade agreements, that policies are “mutually compatible and internationally competitive”.

Last week a report by Deloitte Access Economics, commissioned by the Department of Education and Training, said international education contributes nearly A$1 billion (US$764 million) more to the economy than previously estimated and the government put the current real value of the sector at close to A$21 billion.

When the Coalition government came to power in 2014 it moved quickly to increase the attractiveness of Australia as a study destination in the wake of plunging enrollment, particularly during 2009 to 2012.

Concerns about student safety and more stringent visa requirements for students were among the factors behind the falling numbers, as well as the strong Australian dollar and global economic downturn. The government has since streamlined the student visa application process to significantly reduce red tape and introduce a more targeted approach to rooting out applicants considered to be seeking a visa fraudulently, with no intention of entering the country to study.

Senator Colbeck said the new strategy “signals the sector’s and the government’s commitment to work together to advance international education by identifying new products and new opportunities for expansion, and building on our current presence in existing markets.

“In order to achieve this, it is critical that we embrace the role as a driver of change. We must be conscious of what our competitors are doing, particularly what they are doing better than us. It is vital we are honest about our shortcomings and proactive in addressing concerns when they arise.”

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