Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.

Science, Technology
& Innovation

ASEAN and Australia: An Introduction Interview with Michael Fay

hesb-07-01-asean and australia-featured image

Vignesh Naidu (VN): How important is ASEAN to Australia?


Michael Fay (MF): Australia is geographically bound to ASEAN. We’re going nowhere. We can’t sail off into somewhere else. We are forever and have always been bound together, pre-dating colonial settlement of Australia – or some would say the invasion of Australia. We’re here for the long term. So, we have to work out how we’re going to partner with each ASEAN country and be part of one of the most dynamic, economically developing regions in the world. So, it’s in everybody’s interest to partner and to cooperate, and we’ve got a history of cooperation. We need to look back and celebrate the fact that Aboriginal Australia has been connected with Indonesia for hundreds of years through trade and language. And I think we’re now getting to a point where we realise that alongside other key blocs like China and Europe and North America, we have a real opportunity to grow our engagement in ASEAN for mutual benefit.

 

VN: Do you see events such as the ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue (AAED) as effective Track II diplomacy routes to strengthen relations between ASEAN and Australia?

 

MF: I think that the Track II diplomacy involving those stakeholders who are active in building the relationship is absolutely crucial, because government players have so many opportunities to have dialogue with each other, to talk to each other about educational issues. But often we ignore the people, those who are involved in the educational partnerships. Over the last 25 years we’ve seen an increasing number of Australian stakeholders committing to ASEAN. If you look at the map of ASEAN today, you will find that in each of the 10 countries, there are many examples of Australian investment in education and skills training. I’ve just come from Vietnam where the largest Australian investment has been made by one of our universities, RMIT University from Melbourne. It’s got 3 campuses, over 6,000 students, in Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hanoi. And there are many other examples in Vietnam of Australian investments in education. So, I think it’s important that we provide a platform where Australia and ASEAN can come together to talk about the issues that impact that connectivity in education, and we’re not going to get that from the government.

 

We’ll get it if the players who are in those different sectors want to have a platform to talk to each other, and to talk to their ASEAN partners about the issues that are impacting
them. Because what we are trying to do is very complicated.


It’s very difficult to act transnationally in education.
So, I think we need all the help we can get to provide opportunities and platforms for the stakeholders – the people of action – to connect with each other and discuss what it
is that’s impacting their ability to deliver quality education
across the region.

 

VN: How can AAED and similar platforms provide ASEAN-based institutions exposure and increased connectivity to Australia’s education landscape?

 

MF: Well, I think they are already connected in many important ways, particularly when you look at the scholarship programmes. Under the Australia Awards Scholarship Programme, there are now thousands of members from different ASEAN countries who have had exposure to Australian higher education, where they have studied in Masters or PhD programmes and then gone back to their own institution and country. So, by having that alumnus going back into ASEAN, we’ve actually created the foundation for strong
partnership to build future cooperation which can benefit the mobility programmes, and the development of higher education research partnerships. And I think that’s a real contribution that ASEAN can make to Australia by providing partners in the region who understand Australia, and then for Australians to cooperate with ASEAN institutions to build up an increasing number of opportunities. But one of the challenges has been in research – Australian universities have historically found it easier to do research partnerships with Europe, with North America and in order for them to gravitate more towards ASEAN as a region, for example, they need to be assured that the quality of the research partnership is equal to what they can do in North Asia, or Europe or North America. So, there’s a lot of work to be done in building quality assurance of the institutions, and the research partnerships.

“I think it’s important that we provide a platform where Australia and ASEAN can come together to talk about the issues that impact that connectivity in education, and we’re not going to get that from government. ”

VN: Let’s talk a little bit about skills development and continual learning. We live in an age of disruption when academic qualifications can no longer ensure continual and gainful employment. Many governments, including here in Singapore, have been emphasising the importance of industry-relevant continual education. Education, particularly tertiary institutions, are notoriously slow to change. What do you see as the way forward?

 

 

MF: I think that the bottom line for skills training is that it has to be connected to the job the people are doing. And that depends on the companies that employ the people, not so much on the government and the institutions.

 

 

Because there is often a disconnect between what the institutions are offering and what the market wants, and I think what’s happening is that many of the multinational corporations or large local conglomerates know exactly what they want, and if the educational skills training infrastructure doesn’t provide the skills that industry wants, then industry is going to go and offer that skills training itself. And that’s what’s happening.

 

 

VN: Many Australian multinationals have a significant presence in the region. Do you see some of them going down this route?

 

 

MF: It’s happening also in terms of Australian companies investing in ASEAN. So, I can give you
two examples, one of which is pan-ASEAN, the other one is specific to Indonesia. One of the largest Australian investments in Indonesia is Coca-Cola Amatil – it’s the company of Coca-Cola that’s Australian and Indonesian. They employ more Indonesians than any other Australian company. They’ve their own training institute.

 

 

They know what they want. They weren’t getting the skills that they wanted for their company from the regular skills training institutions. So they have set up their own. Another example is BlueScope Steel, which is a spin-off of BHP, one of the largest global companies. They are active across ASEAN. They’re active here in Singapore too. I think in Indonesia, they’ve got four manufacturing plants. They’ve got manufacturing in Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, as well as Indonesia. So, they’ve got their own BlueScope Academy and that’s because they know what they want in terms of skills training. They’ve instituted their own training to ensure that the company gets the people it wants. And I can see that’s happening. That’s a disruption to the traditional way of looking at skills. And I think it’s going to happen in the universities too.

 

That the companies are doing their own training, that they take graduates from a university, and then they put them through their own particular training programme, because they want people who can respond to the needs of the company. So, I think the old thinking is really being shaken up in the skills area, be it in traditional vocational education or even in the university space, because ASEAN is full of unemployed university students. Because they don’t have the skills that industry wants. And that’s dangerous for the country to have this group of people who, together with their parents, believe they are going through an education system that is going to get them a job. But at the end of it, they find that don’t have any of the skills the employers want.

 

 

So, it’s back to the drawing board. I think it’s a really interesting time and one that requires leadership from governments, institutions and think tanks such as The HEAD Foundation.

 

 

VN: These certainly are very interesting times for institutions of higher learning. The speed of disruption is unprecedented, and these tertiary institutions must find ways to adapt more quickly to the changing needs of industry. Would you like to share more about this year’s (2020) AAED?

 

 

MF: In 2020, the chairmanship of ASEAN is held by Vietnam, so we intend to hold the 2020 iteration of the dialogue in Hanoi. Vietnam is vital, I think, for the region. It’s emerging as a really important part of ASEAN. It’s looked at by many ASEAN countries as an emerging tiger. It seems to be doing things really quickly. And I’m excited with the idea that we will host the dialogue in Hanoi, in November 2020, and bring together Australian educational providers from multiple sectors, from the schools sector, the English language sector, the skills training sector, and the higher education sector.

 

 

To sit with their colleagues from ASEAN and work together on those issues that are impacting both regions and allow us to be better engaged in the region. So, I am looking forward very much to November 2020 in Vietnam.

“…the bottom line for skills training is that it has to be connected to the job the people are doing. And that depends on the companies that employ the people, not so much on the government and the institutions.”

On 31 January 2020, Michael Fay, Convenor of the ASEAN Australia Education Dialogue and a Director at ASEAN Focus Group, an Australian corporate advisory firm, visited The HEAD Foundation in Singapore. He spoke to Vignesh Naidu, Director, Operations at The HEAD Foundation, in a discussion on relations between ASEAN and Australia in higher education and beyond.

MARCH 2020 | ISSUE 7

Higher Education and Sustainability – Perspectives from ASEAN & Australia

About

Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

About

Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events