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[Event Summary] Australia-Korea Higher Education Forum: International Education


From Resilience to Renewal: Australia and Korea have potential to grow in-country and online international education links beyond the pandemic

Australian and Korean universities have shown their resilience through the pandemic and commitment to student learning. And as both countries look to the post-COVID era, they offer great potential for more two-way study abroad and deeper online education links.


That was the key message from discussions on international education at the Australia-Korea Higher Education Forum hosted by the Australian Embassy in Seoul and the Australia-Korea Business Council (AKBC) on 8 June.


Held as part of a series of celebrations marking the 60th year of diplomatic relations, the forum drew more than 150 participants including close to 50 universities and research institutions across the two countries.


H.E. Catherine Raper, the Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, stressed Australia’s efforts to resume the regular movement of students and researchers at the earliest possible time and drew attention to the preparation of a new ten-year Australian Strategy for International Education.


The Hon Simon Crean, Chairman of the AKBC, urged participants to look beyond the mobility restrictions and explore ways for both countries to be education destinations of choice.


In her opening remarks, Dr. Hae-suk Lee, Director-General (International Cooperation), Korean Ministry of Education, encouraged higher education institutions in both countries make more active coordination and collaboration in this “new normal” era.


Prioritising students and their learning

“Universities have taken active measures to assure the welfare of international students, such as delivering essential supplies to students in self-quarantine”, said Dr. Hong-gyu Hwang, Secretary-General of the Korean Council of University Education (KCUE).


Efforts were now underway to bring students back to campus. In April 2021, Seoul National University became the first Korean university to introduce diagnostic tests on-site. The tests reportedly take less than a minute to perform and yield results in under two hours.


Ms. Anne-Marie Lansdown, Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia (UA), the Australian counterpart of the KCUE, noted the strong impact of Covid-19 on Australian universities, especially those with a high percentage of international students, and their prompt actions to ensure continuity in learning.


“Australian universities are using this time to renew and refresh their international strategies,” said Ms. Lansdown. “South Korea is expected to be an important part of those plans going forward.”


She added that in Australia, pilot programs for the return of international students would begin later in 2021, most likely starting with upper-year students. However, numbers would be limited in the beginning.


Getting the most from online education

The speakers urged that hybrid learning models could help to revitalise international exchange. Dr. Hwang said the similar time zones between Australia and Korea could make way for more collaborations online, such as joint degree programs as well as online summer schools and internships.


At the same time the speakers agreed on the need for sharpening quality assurance for online education.

“More than 50 per cent of Korean students expressed dissatisfaction about the quality of online courses,” Dr. Hwang said, citing a survey by the Korean Ministry of Education conducted in August 2020.


“A majority of the students still highly value in-country learning,” Ms. Lansdown noted, referencing a study by IDP Education that found 90 percent of students want an in-country experience and 31 percent intend to defer until face-to-face learning becomes available. 


To improve the quality of distance education, Dr. Hwang said each Korean university would set up an “online class management committee” comprised of faculty, students, and related experts that would be responsible for overseeing the quality of online classes.


[Further reading] Summary of research collaboration discussion