The Role of the Education Sector in Australia’s Engagement with Asia
May 8, 2012 in Australia in the Asian Century
By Stefan Lodewyckx
The anticipated government White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century is due for release in the next few months and was the focus of yesterday’s Global Foundation Summit in Melbourne. Although a number of themes were discussed, education was the one streak that interlaced nearly all aspects of the conversation.
Despite recently reported declines, Australia’s education system still stands as one of the highest ranked in the world. In Victoria education is the largest export industry, attracting over 150,000 international students to the state and bringing in billions. However, is it time we went beyond our perception of education as a mere revenue source?
Everyone knows that knowledge will stay with you long after your formal education has finished. As we grapple with the challenges of the information age, we must also accept that knowledge is becoming as much of an asset for a society as its financial income. The knowledge possessed by Asian international students can greatly help Australians understand the countries around us. The time has come to think of education as a conduit — a vehicle for improving Asian literacy at home. If properly harnessed in universities, workplaces, government and community, knowledge transfer between Asia and Australia can bring about benefits that go beyond the budget bottom line.
Asian students coming to Australia to study are often here for the first time. The impression that Australia leaves on them now will form their future perception of Australia’s role and views in the region. Education has a role to play in engaging all students — local and international — with the issues facing us all. An understanding of the Australian context is crucial for international students taking that knowledge back home with them. This “doorway” approach is often overlooked when we invite foreigners to our shores to study. In the Asian century, a proactive Australia must make use of this opportunity to help bridge the literacy divide beyond our country’s borders; establishing ourselves as an active and positive player in the region.
People often gain meaningful understanding of a topic when it is presented to them at the human level. The use of people-people relationships to build our Asian literacy cannot be underestimated. A diverse student population from multiple cultures has the latent potential to effect that sort of framework in our population today. Once again, education is a crucial ingredient for bringing people together. Whether this is through better integration of international students with naturalised Australians, or through more chances for Australians to travel to institutions abroad, the connections people forge tie Asia and Australia closer towards one another.
Large pockets of Australian society have not had the opportunity to experience Asia in such a way that engages them. In the absence of relevant experience and engagement, the geographical distance of most countries from our own keeps our neighbours physically and psychologically remote. If Australia is to be a key player in the Asian century, the crucial relevance of Asia must permeate right down to the community level. Here, the current perceptions around some of our fundamental institutions must shift. The White Paper must address education as a matter of criticality if the great opportunities it presents are to be harnessed. As means of bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from across the region, education has a key role in achieving the human-level understanding of Asia that we need in order to be a strong regional player in the decades going forward.
Stefan Lodewyckx completed his undergraduate studies in the health sciences and is continuing his postgraduate studies in environmental studies. Stefan has been involved in UN Youth Australia since 2008, and has had roles from organising events to divisional administration. He is currently the Vice-President (Communications) of UN Youth Australia. Stefan attended the Global Foundation’s Australia Summit as a youth reporter, representing Australia’s Role in the World.