Thank you very much for your welcome. Ambassador Bill Paterson, it is great to have you here. And thanks also to all of the people here from Austrade who, from what I can see, have done a most outstanding job in facilitating this event. It’s a very important program, and as Trade Commissioner Wendy Haydon just told me, it’s the biggest event of its kind that we are associated with globally. Korea is a very important student market for us and I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to wish you all the best with the next couple of days.
Over the last 12 months that I have had responsibility for international education marketing and promotion, I’ve been to at least two thirds of the universities in Australia, so I do know many of the institutions very well. A few years ago I spent a couple of years advising the 39 Australian vice-chancellors on many issues. I was also, for a year before we lost government last time, the Vocational Education Minister.
I have got a great passion for vocational education, which in many countries doesn’t garner the respect it should in giving people important technical skills rather than perhaps scholastic skills. There is a very critical role for all of these institutions to shine and to provide people with whatever talents they are blessed with, so that they can maximise their talents and make the best of their lives.
You should feel very confident about the brand of Australian education. From my observation across the region – and I am travelling frequently, the brand of Australian education is very strong. We are seen as a knowledge-based economy – which we are. But also, the standard of our education institutions is hugely regarded throughout the region, and for good reason. I think we saw the other day twenty of our universities in the Top 400. Think about the fact that there are 11,500 universities in the world. In Australia we’ve got 39, and five of those are in the Top 100. Not only that, a university may not be in top 100 or 200 but often will have a discipline that is.
For example, places like James Cook University, with marine biology, and now tropical health and medical research. I could pick many of the regional universities, which have a specialty discipline which is world class, and up there in the top 100 or 200. So we have a wonderful offering.
The same is true with technical education. It is, frankly, often more highly regarded across the region than in Australia. And we are seeing increasing demand here in Korea. I think there was a 19 per cent increase in Koreans attending Australian vocational education last year. With the Australian dollar coming down and with the Korea Australia Free Trade Agreement, I hope this trend will continue.
The Free Trade Agreement is one of reasons I am here, to ensure it enters into force as quickly as possible. We have passed the relevant bills through the Australian Parliament, so we are ready to move. Hopefully over the next two months, it will pass through the Korean National Assembly. We will then have an exchange of letters and the agreement will enter into force.
The Free Trade Agreement will mean significant increased opportunities for our universities for courses such as engineering, veterinary science, law, and accounting. Over time we will look to build more and more of these different skills and disciplines into mutual recognition arrangements. This is a significant and attractive feature of the FTA.
The FTA offers all the protections that any other business from Australia would get from the Agreement in terms of investment and other improvements. Those sorts of gains will accrue to universities and other educational institutions from Australia involved in Korea.
Also, for the first time, Australian adult education courses, which may not lead to qualifications, will increasingly be offered here.
Across the region we have trail-blazed the education sector over the past 15 to 20 years to become the third biggest country offering foreign student education. After the US and the UK, Australia is number three in terms of numbers of foreign students being educated in Australia over all sorts of universities and other forms of education – including schools.
In my electorate nearly every high school and private school has got a small cohort of students from somewhere in the region and I think that can only keep growing.
Competition is growing enormously. Korea’s top university is 44th in the world according to the Times Higher Education ranking, close to Australia’s top ranked university, the University of Melbourne. You can go to China as well, which now has a significant number of universities that are getting into the top 100 or 200. Competition is increasing but at same time, opportunities are getting so much greater.
There are now 600 million people in the middle class from India to China and every country in between. It is expected that in the next 30 years the 600 million will grow to 3 billion, which is almost incomprehensible.
Whilst there will be a very quick and rapid growth in the standard and quality of institutions in those countries, their people will also have the ability to send their children to our educational institutions. I expect that will grow at the same time.
Also – as and you would all be observing - the models of engagement are changing. There will be 100 different models in 10 years’ time. These include online capacity, joint venture type arrangements, and all sorts of programs such as in places like India with their production of tablets with vocational education courses and use of animation and script-writing.
There are some fascinating new technologies that are appropriate to certain parts of the region and not to other parts. For example, in India, there are potentially several-hundred-million young people who haven’t had a strong primary school education. So there, the opportunities and the kind of courses that will be needed will be different. It is an exciting time. A lot of this is about innovation to stay ahead of the competition and to continue to be relevant, and to continue to have our primary place in the region so far as our education offering is concerned.
Finally, I’d just like to say that the Korean Australian Free Trade Agreement is another wonderful opportunity to consolidate this market and again take it to another level. Your engagement is also important.
Do not only think about the students that will go to Australia. We also have the New Colombo Plan. There will be 10,000 Australian students every year coming into the region. Many of them will come here for an educational opportunity for either one year or possibly three years of their course. And then there is the prospect of internships for periods of two years, after all of the countries have agreed to an internship period, which will build important linkages.
This Free Trade Agreement has a lot of intangible benefits. It is an endorsement of the relationship between our two countries. It gives confidence to people in all sorts of walks of life in both Australia and here to further engage. It builds trust. It builds relationships. So you should seek to capitalise on what I think will be a relationship between our two countries, which, having been strong for so many decades, will go to another level.
There will be opportunities for you to do things here in partnership or on your own if you wish to. Those sorts of opportunities may not have existed previously, but they will start to emerge. In addition there will be more tourism, more flights, more opportunities for students, and their families to easily participate in Australia in educational opportunities.
So congratulations on the quality of what you offer, which maintains brand Australia here and within the region.
What you are doing is an extraordinarily important thing. When you think about the billions who are going into the middle class. This is not just an economic phenomenon, but it is a humanitarian phenomenon - to take billions of people out of poverty, and see them enjoy the much better quality of life that we enjoy. This is a wonderful thing, what we are all here for in many respects, which is to improve the quality of life of our fellow man and woman.
Our primary responsibility is for Australia. But we can also help the process that is going on across the region. In my view this is a once in a millennia phenomenon. Stop and think about what’s happening, which will take billions of people out of poverty. This never happened before, and it won’t happen again because much of the world after this next 30 or 40 years will be transformed - hopefully forever.
You are in the middle of it. You’ve got the skill-set that has enabled so many people to move out of one set of circumstances into a much better one. Think about the opportunity that is coming. The next 30 or 40 years for Australia are going to be spectacular. This is going to revolve around the services that we have to offer to help countries in the region - including the developed ones such as Korea - to play a very big part in this humanitarian miracle that we are in the midst of.
I wish you a good couple of days and much success, and look forward to seeing you again. Thanks once again.
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