Australia’s tilt towards the Association of South-East Asian Nations will be boosted next month with the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney, when Malcolm Turnbull will host the leaders of the 10 member-states at an event symbolising closer engagement with the region.
Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam will also be able to point to a successful revamping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, minus the US and absent some notable ASEAN members — at least until Indonesia and Thailand decide to make a commitment.
While ASEAN-Australian education will not be central to discussions in Sydney, many of the ASEAN leaders and their advisers, or their children and relatives, will have had the benefit of an Australian-linked education. This is rarely the case when Australian officials meet their Chinese or Indian counterparts or business leaders.
Regional tensions, including with China, will be a key topic of discussion in Sydney. They have the potential of exposing the Australian international education sector to a downturn in student numbers flowing from China. For Australia this would be a dangerous scenario, last witnessed in 1989 when English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students sector was in free fall after the flow of Chinese students was cut off as a result of tightened visa regulations.
For most Australian educational institutions, in the present environment of overdependence on China, it would be a nightmare. The possibility should have them looking at their risk profile and making adjustments.
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