Exports from Australia’s international education services sector – two-thirds of it comprising income from international higher education students – reached a record high of A$18.8 billion (US$13.5 billion) in 2014-15, the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics, or ABS, data has shown.
According to the Minister for Tourism and International Education, Senator Richard Colbeck, the figures eclipsed the previous peaks of A$17.6 billion in the calendar year 2014 and A$16.3 billion in the financial year 2013-14.
He said: “Education services exports for 2014-15 increased by 15% on the 2013-14 figure, which shows our booming international education sector continues to go from strength to strength.”
The figures confirmed that international education remains Australia’s largest services export and its third-largest export overall after iron ore and coal, he said.
“International education is also a major generator of jobs, with the sector supporting over 130,000 jobs in cities and regions throughout Australia,” he said. “The government is determined to ensure the international education sector continues to be one of the major strengths of the Australian economy.”
The vast majority of the income, A$18.2 billion, was contributed by the nearly half a million students who chose to study in Australia over this period. International students in the higher education sector generated A$12.5 billion in export income, while students in the vocational education and training sector produced A$2.9 billion.
In addition, roughly A$600 million was generated from a range of international education services delivered by Australian providers offshore.
Senator Colbeck said the international education sector also helps to forge vital diplomatic, business and research links between Australia and key trading partner countries around the world.
The importance of international education to Australia came to the fore during meetings with alumni in Jakarta in mid-November, as part of the Indonesia-Australia Business Week They included Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships alumni and newly awarded recipients of this highly regarded programme.
Senator Richard Colbeck also met with recipients and alumni of Australia Awards, University of Tasmania, the Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth and New Colombo Plan.
The New Colombo Plan and Endeavour programmes offer significant study and research opportunities that promote knowledge, educational links and enduring ties between Australia and Indonesia, and other countries in the region.
The minister said he discussed with Indonesian counterparts and education sector representatives “how we can build our international education partnership which will grow our economies and support the development of our workforces”.
Indonesia is one of the New Colombo Plan’s most popular study destinations for Australians with 2,000 students in the first three years of the programme – about 20% of the total number of students supported by the programme.
According to Universities Australia, ties between Australian and Indonesian universities were already at a record high before the Jakarta meeting, with the number of formal agreements for research partnerships, staff and student exchanges and study abroad programmes climbing to 254 by the end of last year.
There were also early signs of a tentative recovery in the number of Indonesian students coming to Australia to study – with September figures revealing 3,022 Indonesian students began a university course this year in Australia, up 5.5% from the same time last year (2,865).
In addition, two executive training programmes run in the past two years have enabled senior administrators from Indonesian universities to shadow the jobs of their counterparts in Australian institutions. The executive programme is modelled on a programme run between Australia and China, which counts China's Vice-Minister for Education, Dr Hao Ping, among its alumni.
Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Anne-Marie Lansdown said: "By forging closer ties between the next generations of Australian and Indonesian scholars, researchers, industries and executives, we lay foundations for even closer diplomatic, economic and trade relationships between our two nations.
"Indonesia is such an important neighbour and regional partner for Australia.”
She said these partnerships between universities would strengthen knowledge of each other's cultures, create closer links between their citizens, and open the door to vital research on shared health and agricultural challenges that are specific to the region.
Co-operation with Germany
Meanwhile, on 16 November the government also published a list of 100 new research projects to be funded under the Australia-Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme in 2016 and 2017, under which almost A$3.5 million will be shared by Australian and German researchers to pursue joint research projects with their counterparts halfway around the globe.
The combined investment by Australian universities and the German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD, is A$3.479 million. For the first time, researchers from all Australian universities were eligible to apply for funding to work alongside their counterparts in German research institutions.
The grants announcement came days after the Australia-Germany Advisory Group recommended forging closer ties between the two nations in science, innovation, academic exchange and research collaboration, noting Australia's strengths in basic research and Germany's strengths in research commercialisation.
The DAAD is the largest funding organisation in the world supporting the international exchange of students and scholars. Since its foundation in 1925, it has provided funding for more than 1.9 million scholars in Germany and abroad.
The 100 projects range from research into preventing the radicalisation of Muslim youth, to exercise slowing the progression of dementia, to identifying financial market contagion in real time.
The Australia-Germany Joint Research Cooperation Scheme is open to all Australian researchers at participating universities and has a specific focus on early career researchers. One third of the selection criteria is based on including early career researchers on the project.
Each project team receives up to A$25,000 for travel and living expenses to support their research work in Germany.
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