Australia faces mainland challenge
China's lavish spending on universities and European reforms pose risk for lucrative global market
China's growing economic power and its massive spending on building new universities will have a dramatic impact on Australian higher education, according to federal education minister Julie Bishop.
Ms Bishop said 23 million mainland students were currently enrolled in China's universities and the mainland government was committed to a huge investment in education.
She said Beijing University unashamedly made the claim that it was going to be 'the best university in the world'.
Australian universities would have to 'take control of their destiny' as the global higher education market responded to the rise of China and to the Bologna reforms in Europe.
Releasing a discussion paper on the implications of the Bologna process, Ms Bishop said it had implications for European acceptance of Australian higher education awards and options for student mobility.
Universities would be encouraged to consider mergers and strategic alliances with competitor institutions to deliver greater choice to domestic and overseas students.
Ms Bishop warned that Australia could lose tens of thousands of fee-paying foreign students to European institutions unless its universities adapted to the Bologna process.
Universities could be threatened by the plans to provide for easier movement of students between European institutions, using transcripts to assist their entry to higher degrees and employment.
If Australia was not aligned with these developments, a significant proportion of the 32,000 Europeans now enrolled in Australian institutions could find other destinations more attractive, she said.
'Similarly, should Asian countries or institutions choose to align with the Bologna Process, Europe may become a more attractive destination for those students,' Ms Bishop said.
The challenge was how to better fit Australian frameworks with international standards and benchmarks while retaining a higher education sector that met domestic and international standards.
'Vice-chancellors are very responsive to the idea that they need to be in a position to respond to these external challenges,' she said.
The paper, prepared by her department, said that compatibility with Bologna would closely align key features of the Australian higher education system with the university systems of 45 European countries.
This would assist student movement between universities while boosting other types of engagement between Australian and European institutions.
'Although students and academics move between universities, and Australian qualifications are recognised in Europe, impediments resulting from differences in systems and basic structures still exist,' the paper said.
It warned Australian universities could lose out to Europe in the lucrative international education market.
Asian students were likely to be attracted by the increasing use of English in many European universities at the postgraduate level and their competitive tuition fees.