By Joseph Xiaojun Zhang
Aligned with what Australian policymakers are now calling the Asian Century, China has become Australia’s chief partner in cooperation among students and academics in what is called “knowledge partnership.”
A report released last week by Universities Australia, an umbrella organization of Australian universities, said that the country has 39 universities with formal agreements with Chinese partner institutions. The number of university agreements between the two countries has leapt almost 75 percent in less than 10 ten years, rising from 514 to 885.
Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson told Xinhua that China has become Australia’s principal partner in the search for shared knowledge among the peoples of both countries.
“The value of these partnerships to Australia both in terms of productivity, trade, foreign relations and cultural understanding is enormous. What we are talking about here is not selling finite resources, but generating infinite knowledge,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that agreements vary from allowing a Beijing student and a Sydney student to swap campuses or to bring Melbourne and Shanghai academics together to work on medical research or breakthroughs.
While Australia and China share a strong history of education engagement, it is the United States that has been the traditional partner for higher education agreements in Australia, but all that has changed. Over the last 15 years, two-way trade between Beijing and Canberra has grown exponentially from 8.8 billion Australian dollars to more than 113 billion Australian dollars in 2011.
Only three years after China became Australia’s number one trading partner, China’s gravitational pull has moved into shared knowledge and research with Australia boasting more formal partnerships with Chinese universities than any other country.
The relationship is now underpinned by agreements and partnerships between government agencies, education institutions and peak bodies in both countries. Australia has the third highest number of universities in the global top 100 as shown in the 2012 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU).
Five Chinese universities appeared in the ARWU rankings this year, giving the Chinese mainland, China’s Hong Kong and Taiwan an aggregate of 42 universities in the Top 500, overtaking countries like the United Kingdom for the first time.
Today Australia and China are engaged in wide areas of cooperation, such as research and institutional collaboration, business and industry engagement, and student, academic and professional exchanges. However, the learning curve has been tight, with areas such as student exchanges and an understanding of China’s national priorities among the obstacles both sides are seeking to resolve.
According to Australian Universities, of the 885 agreements with China, 89 percent included academic or research collaboration, 48 percent on staff exchanges and 6 percent on a study abroad component.
“These figures show that Australian universities are leading the way when it comes to capitalizing on the opportunities of the Asian century,” Robinson said.
Australia’s Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said 100, 000 Chinese students studied in Australia last year.
“By Chinese standards that may not be many but for a university sector that has around 500,000 students as Australia’ s does it is a very significant proportion. But unfortunately there were fewer than 3,000 Australian students studying in China.” Minister Evans said.
Evans told Xinhua that in order for Australia to truly realize the potential of our engagement with China, “we must ensure that more Australian students take up the opportunity of studying in China.”
“We know China is increasingly looking to open its higher education sector to the world and is looking to attract half a million international students to its universities by 2020,” Evans said.
Speaking in October at the University of Western Australia, Chinese Ambassador to Australia Chen Yuming challenged the Australian government to make education exchanges a priority.
“We hope Australia will provide policy support for students from both sides to study in each other’s country. The number of Chinese students in Australia is over 50 times that of Australian students in China,” Chen said.
Chen said that recently the U.S. government announced that it would send 100,000 American students to China in the next four years. “I wonder if Australia could send 10,000 to China,” Chen added.