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Australia’s universities can boost soft power in “competitive” landscape – report

Australia’s long-term international education strategy should prioritise soft power over economic impact, according to a new report on the future of the internationalisation of the country’s universities.

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Global demographic changes will also impact Australia’s international education sector

There should be a greater focus on harnessing universities to lead Australia’s response to globally critical issues, experts at the Lygon Group suggested in a report commissioned by Universities Australia. 

Authors warn that a lack of “domestic diplomacy” – Australians’ understanding of the value of international higher education – could harm the country’s global reputation, particularly if international students return home having experienced exploitation, racism and exclusion. 

At the same time, the global soft power landscape is becoming “increasingly competitive” as China continues to offer scholarships, teach Mandarin globally and provide skills support via the Belt and Road initiative. 

Australia should prioritise educational soft power and development in the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia over the next 30 years, the report urges, including offering higher education scholarships to people in the regions and providing learning abroad experiences for Australians. 

“This would contribute a more productive and long-term means of support in the Pacific driven by tertiary education, capacity building and innovation,” authors said. 

Global demographic changes will also impact Australia’s international education sector as parts of Europe and East Asia face ageing populations, while lower-income countries are expected to have “prime-age labour forces” by 2050. 

This will change demand for higher education internationally. The report advises Australian institutions to work with those nations projected to experience working-age population growth.  

In particular, the international education sector needs to become more Africa literate as emerging markets in the region, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, show “extraordinary” increases in international student numbers, according to the report. 

Outgoing Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the country’s institutions will continue to educate students from top source countries like India, Nepal and China, “but the projected changes to the global population mean we will need to engage with new partners to sustain education as a major export industry”.

The Lygon Group also suggested taking a collaborative approach to Australian engagement with China, finding ways for universities in both countries to work “in genuine partnership”. 

“The sector plays an important role in shaping global responses to global problems”

As young people in China face a challenging job market, the report predicts more Chinese will look to Australia for employment and long-term migration opportunities. 

Jackson said the findings reinforced the need for a proactive and strategic approach to international education. 

“The skills and talents of international students add to Australia’s skills mix and the sector plays an important role in shaping global responses to global problems through research and soft power.

“What our universities do in an international context is only becoming more important as we navigate a rapidly changing environment.

“Any changes to our international education policy settings, now or in the future, need to be weighed carefully against the enormous benefits for which the sector is responsible.”

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One Response to Australia’s universities can boost soft power in “competitive” landscape – report

  1. It’s a positive development, as it recognizes the potential for universities to contribute to global issues and suggests proactive engagement to strengthen Australia’s position in international education and diplomatic relations.

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