Glyn Davis likes the idea of Australian universities teaching degrees completely in Mandarin, or other foreign languages, to help cope with the influx of international students in local tertiary institutions.
The secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Australia’s highest-ranking public servant, who was formerly the vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne, floated the idea as a way of being innovative in addressing some of the stress being placed on higher education in Australia.
He suggested it was arrogant to assume that English will be the dominant language in our region.
Teaching degrees wholly in another language, at institutions that only taught in a foreign language, or offering more foreign language degrees and courses in largely English-speaking universities could be a way forward.
“I can’t see any good reason why you wouldn’t consider that,” Professor Davis said.
“What can we do that’s different? How can we integrate vocational and higher education? How can we have different patterns? Why do we always have to teach in English?”
Professor Davis’s comments were made while addressing the launch of a new book Australian Universities: A Conversation About Public Good in Sydney.
He also noted that Australian universities were large by world standards and that enrolments were growing much faster than at most others around the globe.
“We’ve got the largest public universities, probably, in the Western world, and that’s a shock, that’s not what many of us think,” he said.
“If you take the five largest Group of Eight universities, they are four times larger than their UK equivalents, and two times larger than their US equivalents.”
“This is astonishing. There’s no other system in the world that has these characteristics.”
There has been a 1700 per cent enrolment growth from international students in Australian institutions over the past three decades.
Over that same period, public funding has fallen.
Professor Davis said such growth could lead to new styles of tertiary institutions, but innovative thinking had to be adopted and bold plans implemented to meet the challenges ahead.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms almost 143,000 international students arrived in February this year, which is 93,270 more than in the same month last year.
Provisional estimates indicate a further 54,350 students entered Australia in March.
Universities Australia described the figures as good news for Australian universities and for the nation, in the wake of COVID restrictions being eased.
“The return of international students boosts campus life and generates significant economic activity, benefitting not only universities but local businesses and communities,” UA’s Peter Chesworth said.
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“Education is a serious economic driver and added more than $40 billion to the economy pre-COVID, helping to pay for the essential services Australians need and enjoy.
“Australia’s offer of education to international students is also a powerful tool for building cultural understanding and longstanding relationships.
“We are steadily working back to the position of strength we held prior to the pandemic. The sooner we get there the better – for the benefit of our universities and all Australians.”
Promotion for Australian Universities: A Conversation About Public Good describes the work as highlighting contemporary challenges facing Australian universities and offering new ideas for expanding public good.
“More than 20 experts take up the debate about our public universities: who they are for; what their mission is (or should be); what strong higher education policy entails; and how to cultivate a robust and constructive relationship between government and Australian universities,” it says.
“Australian Universities rekindles a much-needed conversation about the vital role of public universities in our society, arguing for initiatives informed by the realities of university life and offering a way forward for government, communities, students and public universities – together – to advance public good.”