MELBOURNE: Malaysia can serve as an ideal platform for Australia to be connected to the rest of Asia, especially in the education sector, said former Human Resource Minister Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan Onn.
He urged the Australian authorities to expand on its current education operations in Malaysia and leverage on that to tap into the growth potential in wider Asia.
“As it stands now, Asia is an ideal catalyst for education to grow along with the digital economy due to its large domestic market,” he said in his presentation at the World Chinese Economic Forum on “Education Partnerships and the Digital Economy”.
Fong, who is also chairman of Star Publications (M) Bhd, said the education industry potential was much higher in China and Asia compared to other Western developed countries, as the region was still growing, especially with its Internet penetration rate still at a low base.
“The Internet penetration of Asia ex-China is about 26.2% out of a 3.88 billion population and China’s rate stands at 38.4% of a population of 1.33 billion. What it mean is that there are much bigger opportunities for export of goods and services related to the digital economy.
“Although we know Australia is a huge exporter of mining resources, international education is Australia’s fourth highest export, having generated A$15.1bil in export revenue in 2011,” he said, adding that this had grown by 171% since 2004.
Fong said 44% to 48% of international students annually were from South East Asia and China.
Half of the international students in Australia who are from the top 10 countries are from Asean and China, he said.
Moving forward, he said there was also a need for Australians in particular to study in Asia to enhance better economic and international relations.
Currently, Australia has established 14 tertiary education institutions via joint ventures and partnerships in over 33 cities in South-East Asia and China.
Another speaker, Australia Wide Business Training managing director and Australia-Malaysia Business Council president Larry Gould said the next challenge for learning institutions and the business community was to create a “fit for purpose” workforce.
“There should be a balance between relevant learned knowledge and practical business applications skills from new graduates,” he said.