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Australia has a growing number of international students from Asia, but are higher education institutions doing enough to support these students?


Anthony Welch from Sydney University says universities have yet to sufficiently invest in improving relations with Asian students.


There is an ongoing trend where global power is shifting to the East, and this has become quite apparent in the education and research sector. China is set to beat the United States when it comes to investments and research in STEM. Universities in China, Japan, and Singapore are steadily climbing up international rankings, with new competitors from Malaysia and Thailand entering the race as well.


This trend is also reflected in the increasing number of Asian students in Australia. In 2017-18, Asia contributed AU$22.2 billion to the international education sector. Asia continues to be the leading sender of foreign students, particularly those from China (28%), India (15%), Nepal (7%), and Vietnam (3.9%).


Right now, China is already one of Australia’s top research partners, as figures show that the number of publications co-authored with China rose from four to 14 percent between the years 1996 to 2009. However, there is still much that institutions can do to address the barriers hindering higher education.


Stricter Research Collaboration

During the latter half of 2019, fears that national security being jeopardized by Chinese students have come up. There were speculations that Chinese-led research was being used to develop military technologies. The incident of a Chinese defector in Canberra only worsened these fears, which Beijing dismissed to assuage fear and hesitation.


Academics and professionals, however, caution against stricter policies as China has become an invaluable research partner. It’s not just the quantity but the quality of the research coming from its ranks, especially in the fields of engineering, materials, and computing.


“Australia has to work with international partners to generate knowledge. If we want to be at the frontier we have to work with the best. Australia is working with China to remain at the front,” says Professor James Laurenceson of the University of Technology of Sydney.

Visa Delays

Based on social media accounts, hundreds of Chinese students complained of visa delays that were “politically motivated.” Delays were said to last anywhere between five months and over a year. For postgraduate students, the expected time for their visa should only be around four months, but some have waited for as long as 17 months.


The Department of Home Affairs said factors such as “health, character, and national security requirements” need to be considered in every application.


Even though more than 98 percent of them have their visas approved anyway, the delay leads to missed scholarship deadlines. If this continues, it could discourage future students from pursuing academic opportunities in the country.



Welch added that the New Colombo Plan, an initiative that supports the exchange of students and knowledge in the Indo-Pacific region, is a step in the right direction. Australian researchers themselves recognize the potential and value of Asian students and have increased co-authored publications. Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Pakistan increased their co-authored publications by over 100 percent.


Continuing to focus on the Asia-Pacific region will be a huge advantage for higher education institutions. Taking the necessary actions to reduce the above barriers and strategic student recruitment strategies can make Australia a top destination for international students.

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MSM Reporter is collated by a globally spread team of MSM and is published every Thursday.

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