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Australian education: a bridge in the Indo-Pacific age

Jan 01, 2012


With the Indian Ocean to its west and the Pacific Ocean to its east, Australia is, by a stroke of geographical fortune, located at the crossroads of an immense area that encompasses the global economy’s high-growth regions: India and the Middle East, China, and the rest of East Asia.

As the Asian Century has evolved into the Asia-Pacific Century over the past decade, analysts have begun speaking of the advent of an Indo-Pacific age.

And in this increasingly interdependent global economy, governments have developed and promoted every industry to remain competitive. Even schools and universities have evolved from their original purpose—educating—to become multimillion-dollar contributors to national economies.

In resource-rich Australia, which has been supplying vital coal and minerals to rapidly developing China and India, the education sector has become the country’s third-largest export earner, with Asian students emerging as the most significant contributor to the growth of revenue.

In fact, the country is widely regarded as a pioneer of commercialization of its educational institutions, which it has been undertaking since the mid-1980s.

While it’s true that Australia is conveniently located, international students also come to the country because of the impressive reputation of its schools.

In the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, seven Australian universities made it to the top 200, among them Australian National
University, University of Sydney, and Monash University.

“It’s not just the English speaking environment; we have also the world’s top universities. We have at least a half-dozen, and I don’t think you can find many other universities in the East Asian hemisphere that are in the top 100,” said Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

“Our university sector is mature but still rapidly expanding. One of the things the government has done in the last several years is to invest in the capital universities,” Rudd added.

Australia’s largest

Established in 1958, Monash University in Melbourne has attracted the largest number of students from within and outside Australia. It has grown to become the largest university in the country, with more campuses across the globe than any of its domestic counterparts.

Ranked in the top 1 percent of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Monash has six local campuses in the state of Victoria, established two campuses in Malaysia and South Africa, and set up international centers in Italy and India.

The school is renowned for its Masters in Business Administration, the flagship program of the Faculty of Business and Economics introduced in 1968.

“The Monash MBA program is generalist in nature and emphasizes breadth of business and management concepts and techniques rather than depth of knowledge in one or two areas,” said Dr. Jane Sherlock-Holcombe, MBA Program Manager.

“The program is designed to provide current and aspiring managers with an educational experience to prepare them for leadership positions within a variety of organizations. It is a professional degree that provides an environment where students are able to share and learn from each other’s professional and organizational experiences,” she added.

With the ever–changing business environment and new issues facing a highly–globalized and heavily–industrialized world, Monash MBA launched a new curriculum last year that gives a greater emphasis and integrated focus on ethics and sustainability, leadership, innovation and strategic decision-making.

To complement the comprehensive education of its students, Monash MBA has fostered links with business and industry, both in Australia and abroad, providing all its students with opportunities for experiential learning and research collaboration.

Among those partners are The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), Neural Diagnostics, GlaxoSmithKline, Victoria Police, IBM, Oxfam, the Australian Senior Human Resources Roundtable, AusAID, GM Holden, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and China Aluminum Corporation.

It also has alliances with Warwick University and Newcastle Business School, both in the United Kingdom.

The country’s first

The University of Sydney enjoys the prestige of being the first university in Australia. In over a century and half, the school has grown to become one of the world’s premier learning institutions, in terms of size and range of disciplines.

“We are unusual in that we teach everything — from astrophysics to speech pathology. That gives us unique opportunities to think about the problems the world is facing through a multidisciplinary perspective. And we are about to invest close to half a billion dollars in research and teaching,” said Dr. Michael Spence, vice chancellor and principal.

Founded in 1850, the University of Sydney runs ten campuses scattered across the city, and has about 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty members. Of its students, 11,000 are from outside Australia, with 6,000 of them coming from China.

Although the university has become a top preference for students from the region, the University of Sydney has maintained strong and long-standing ties with the United States, still a valuable source of information and cooperation.

“The U.S. Studies Center has been enormously successful, not only as a place for both business and public engagement and research and teaching of the United States, but also as a place for various American academics to come and think about their own country from a distance,” Spence said.

“We have affiliation agreements with about fifty-six major research institutions across the U.S. The connection with the United States is very strong,” he added.
Among the flagship programs of the university is its business school. Spence believes that the University of Sydney holds a huge competitive edge borne out of its cultural heritage and geographical location.

“One of the things that is interesting in Australian business education is that it stands again between the European tradition of the university-based business school and the American business administration school,” Spence said.

Leading the political debate

Through its Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University has established an international reputation of being an expert on social, political, and economic changes taking place in contemporary Asia and the various forces, interests, and conflicts driving this change.

Set up in 1991, the Asia Research Centre attracts continuous income via academic foundations, consultancy revenue, philanthropic donations, as well as support from Murdoch University in Perth.

The center produces high-quality academic research publications for international and domestic audiences, fosters the development of high-quality research graduates, and constructively contributes to public policy debate and public understanding of issues concerning contemporary Asia.

Scholars at Murdoch University are known for their distinctive theoretical approach to comparative political economy, which emphasizes dynamic social conflicts and alliances associated with contemporary forms of capitalist development.

Students also benefit from engagement with researchers and proponents of that approach through the Masters of Arts in Globalization and Governance, the Master of Arts in Development Studies, and the Master of Arts in Security Studies.

The Murdoch School, as it is sometimes called, has also attracted many PhD students, which has resulted in important contributions to the refinement and extension of this evolving approach.

The Asia Research Centre is at the heart of a large and growing international research network that includes former faculty, PhD students, and other research colleagues.

In the past decade, much of the collaboration happened via alliances with counterpart research centers, which included those at City University of Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong, National University of Singapore, Warwick University, University of North Carolina, and the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague.

Recently, it received the Australian Development Research Award from the Australian Agency for International Development for its project “Achieving Sustainable Demand for Governance: Addressing Political Dimensions of Change.”

“It’s not just the English-speaking environment; we have also the world’s top universities. We have at least a half-dozen in the East Asian hemisphere that are in the top 100.” — Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd

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Australia 2012 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

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