Australia in China Week: Education as investment

A delegation of about 1000 Australian politicians and business leaders is in China this week for Australia in China Week, a key trade mission to China.

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They’ll be touting Australia as a premium destination for investment, tourism and education. With more young Chinese people looking to study overseas, Australian universities are keen to make their pitch.

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Beijing’s notorious smog and traffic are two things Hou Qinteng says he won’t miss when he leaves to study his Masters in International Business in Brisbane later this year.

The 22 year-old says Australia’s environment and relaxed lifestyle played a major role in his decision to apply to the University of Queensland.

“Australia is a beautiful place, it’s not that crowded like Beijing. You can feel relaxed and comfortable there,” Hou said.

He’s just one of the tens of thousands of Chinese students looking to Australia for higher education. They currently make up more than 27 per cent of all international students in Australia, helping to make education the nation’s fourth-largest export.

In 2014 international education contributed about $17 billion to the Australian economy, and that figure is expected to grow.

The University of Sydney is just one of the Australian universities which has sent representatives to Beijing for Australia in China Week. Spokesperson Michelle Carlin says Chinese students are extremely important for the university.

“There’s a lot of competition for the top students. There’s some of the most talented students in China obviously, it’s a very big market,” Carlin said.

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In China coaching companies help prospective students navigate foreign application and visa processes.

Over the past 6 years Beijing-based company Due West has helped hundreds of students apply to universities and colleges abroad. Due West coaching director John Beck says America is still the number one choice.

“Students are looking at the global university rankings, and the United States when it comes to higher education rankings is the leader in the world,” Mr Beck said.

But Australia is gaining ground. Courses are cheaper and it’s considered safer than the United States. Some Australian universities also accept the Gao-kao – China’s tertiary entry score.

Studying in Australia can also open the door to permanent residency. But while many Chinese students hope to stay overseas, most choose to come back for new opportunities in China’s fast-changing economy.

According to China’s Ministry of Education, about 80 per cent of those who study abroad return home.

Iris Huang helps run the Australia-China Alumni Association from Guangzhou in China’s south. She says Australia’s proximity to China – geographically and economically – offers Chinese students more flexibility.

“They can fly back and forth maybe more frequently than before, live in two countries because the two countries are working closer than before,” she said.