Australia invites Chinese students through immersive study program on democracy

Mark Kenny, a professor at the Australian Studies Institute, emphasized the importance of open dialogue.

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Thirty high-achieving Chinese international students have immersed themselves in lessons on Australia’s democratic institutions through the inaugural Stephen FitzGerald Scholars Program, shedding light on the softer side of diplomacy. 

The program, named after Australia’s first ambassador to the People’s Republic of China under Gough Whitlam, seeks to deepen the understanding of Australia’s democratic system among Chinese students.

From Parliament House to the High Court, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to the National Press Gallery, the scholars took on a journey to comprehend the inner workings of Australia’s democracy.

Mark Kenny, a professor at the Australian Studies Institute, emphasized the importance of open dialogue. “If there is an understanding of both sides of politics, the relationship between the two countries can be improved and strengthened,” he said.

The scholars, all high-performing students, are potential future leaders in industry, technology, science, and government. The hope is that their exposure to Australia’s democratic values will foster enduring people-to-people relationships beyond trade.

Perspective from the students

Yuxio Zhang, a 21-year-old marine and Antarctic science student at the University of Tasmania, stressed the urgency of addressing climate change. He sees the program as an opportunity to deepen his understanding of the Australian and Chinese government systems, enabling him to engage in discussions about combating climate change.

Helen Yu, a 24-year-old electrical engineering master’s student at the University of NSW, is using her time in the program to gain insights into democracy and explore the hidden spaces of Parliament House. She plans to contribute to Australia’s workforce on a post-study work rights visa once she completes her degree.

Peter Cai, chief executive of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, highlighted the diversity of the scholars’ specializations and their potential to become leaders in their respective fields. He emphasized that an education in Australia not only provides a world-class degree but also offers an enriching experience that goes beyond academic knowledge.

As the inaugural Stephen FitzGerald Scholars Program unfolds, it not only bridges the gap between different political systems but also lays the foundation for stronger bilateral ties between China and Australia, echoing the program’s mission to build a future based on mutual understanding and respect.

Renewing academic connections with China

Meanwhile, the University of Melbourne has successfully reconnected and reinforced its relationships with China following the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Led by Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell, a delegation comprising representatives from nearly every faculty visited China, aiming to rebuild and reinforce connections with alumni and institutional partners in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, according to a press release.

Several key outcomes were achieved during the visit, further solidifying the university’s collaborations in China.

The University of Melbourne renewed its partnership with the China Scholarship Council, ensuring the funding of Ph.D. candidates until 2027.

The strategic collaboration represents a combined investment of up to AU$ 75 million ($51 million), demonstrating the university’s commitment to supporting academic excellence.

China’s ban on private tutoring positively affecting Australia

Meanwhile, China recently implemented a ban on after-school private tutoring for primary and middle school students in July 2021.

Known as the “double reduction policy,” this regulation mandates that tutoring companies register as non-profit organizations. It limits the amount of homework assigned to students to lighten their academic burden and enhance their mental well-being.

Despite the ban, China’s highly competitive educational system has given rise to a thriving underground market where parents seek private tutoring sessions for their children, willing to pay exorbitant fees to gain a competitive edge.

With a ban on tutoring in China, major education companies are transforming to remote tutoring classes in Australia for alternative income sources.

Professor Anthony Welch, an expert in national and international education policy at the University of Sydney, suggests that mainland programs accessible through social media might appeal to diaspora families and businesses facing challenges with their current models.

Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

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