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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 16 December 2020)

16 Dec 2020

Austrade provides regional updates on the progression and impact of COVID-19 around the world, to support the international education sector as the situation continues to evolve. These reports are compiled using the latest on-the-ground information and advice. The following updates include markets and regions for:

  • Europe
  • Middle East and Africa
  • North Asia
  • North America
  • South Asia



  • The Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) has officially launched id, a platform to connect scientists/academics/students with industry players to ‘solve real problems’. The program focuses on collaborating in fields of food security, health, and energy. The Indonesian government provides up to IDR 250 billion (AUD 25 million) as matching funds, to support key collaboration projects between education institutions, industry and investors.
  • The MOEC also held a World Class Professor (WCP) event. This event aimed to encourage and improve the quality of international publications, by providing opportunities for Indonesian lecturers to collaborate and interact with world-class professors. In 2020, the WCP program supported the Merdeka Belajar Learning program, which includes improving the performance of Tri Darma Universitas and human resources competitiveness in higher education.


  • Despite fluctuating case numbers in Malaysia, the government has decided to end the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) in most states. Police will no longer carry out roadblocks in Malaysia as part of COVID-19 prevention measures. It is unclear how this will affect the overall infection numbers in the coming weeks. However, education and business sectors are prepared to operate in a pandemic/new normal environment for most of 2021. The school sector for instance will remain closed until early 2021 before restarting face-to-face classes.
  • There is strong demand for study abroad from Malaysian students, however due to the pandemic and current economic situation, they are now more likely to stay in Malaysia and study a transnational education (TNE) degree. In fact, flexible pathway developments to help students circumvent travel restrictions, are a focus for many private institutions. Opportunities for further TNE collaborations between local and foreign institutions like Australia, will likely continue.
  • As part of the 2021 budget, the government has allocated RM400 million (approx. AUD 132 million) for R&D to develop links between the world’s leading higher education institutions and industry. The government has also reintroduced tax incentives for non-resource R&D revenue for both public and private higher education institutions. Australia’s strong academic ties with Malaysia mean that universities can leverage research partnerships, and expand more in-depth academic collaborations, rather than purely focusing on student recruitment.


  • The Government is aiming to upgrade the University of Yangon into an autonomous university. According to the State Counsellor, the master plan includes revitalisation of the physical campus and associated infrastructure of University of Yangon, while historical buildings and landmarks on campus will also be preserved. The State Counsellor mentioned the project will be prioritised and implemented based on curriculum — cooperation with international universities will be part of the process.
  • On 9 December, President U Win Myint outlined education as a key investment for the country’s development, with Government to invest more in education in ethnic areas. School-aged children’s right to an education will be a priority. The Government will also enhance human resources, infrastructure and technologies in the education sector.
  • The Ministry of Education (MoE) announced the allocation of the budget of MMK 1.07 billion to upgrade libraries in 200 basic education schools. The MoE and Myanmar Library Association will work together on this initiative.
  • COVID-19 Response Central Committee stated that all Government staff across the country, except those in stay-at-home townships, will be expected to resume full operations starting from 7 December.
  • According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its latest report on 10 December, the Myanmar economy is forecast to expand by 6 per cent in 2021. The growth is expected to be supported by stable performance in agriculture, higher education government spending, and expansion in the telecommunications industry.


  • Border closures have affected one of the traditional and long-time manpower exports of the Philippines — nurses. Last November, the Philippine government imposed a policy capping the overseas deployment of newly hired nurses to 5,000 a year. The cap was put in place to ensure the Philippines will have enough nurses, should the pandemic situation worsen. This policy will also affect overseas workers, which have traditionally contributed 10 per cent of the Philippines’ GDP.
  • Two of the Philippines largest construction companies — Aboitiz and DMCI, signed agreements through the YouthWorks PH program, a Php 1.7 billion (AUD 46.8 million) USAID project to address youth employability in the country. The YouthWorks PH project provides free skills training opportunities to out-of-school and unemployed youth. Around 3,000 beneficiaries from Visayas and Mindanao will undergo the free training from Aboitiz Construction and 2,100 youth will be trained by DMCI in Man It will cover the following vocational courses: masonry, steelworks, carpentry, heavy equipment operation and other construction related courses. This partnership presents potential opportunities for Australian VET providers looking to offer their construction training programs offshore.

Competitor update

  • EducationUSA conducts a virtual Monthly Advising Session for Philippine students. The free monthly session will have a US Embassy Education Adviser available for students to ask questions and explore opportunities in US higher education. On 11 and 12 December, the EducationUSA team in the Philippines delivered virtual US Study Info Sessions for prospective students located in the North of Manila, in Baguio and Cordillera.


  • The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA) under the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, plans to launch an artificial intelligence university project and drone academy in Thailand in 2021. The three top ranking universities (Mahidol University, Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University) are keen to join. The project is in response to the Thai government’s strategies to drive digital economy, which cover digital transformation, manpower skill enhancement and start-up incubation.
  • Due to travel restriction for overseas university representatives, the Thai government has postponed the OCSC International Education Expo until 2021. In the meantime, the Thai government has launched the EduSeeker website as an information portal for prospective students in Thailand to search study information.


  • The US remains a popular choice for Vietnamese students. Vietnam was the sixth leading country of origin for all international higher education students in the US in 2019-20, with 23,777 students. The US Mission to Vietnam is actively promoting opportunities for Vietnamese students to study in the US, including through its EducationUSA services, American Centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and American Hangouts in Can Tho City and An Giang Province.
  • On 12 November, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training hosted an online conference on student mobility and higher education quality assurance among ASEAN+3 countries. Participating countries shared their initiatives to improve tertiary education quality and promote a ‘new normal environment’ in the context of COVID-19. They also discussed a plan to develop information portals relating to higher education institutions in ASEAN+3 in order to promote international learning opportunities. This will help enhance higher education cooperation of ASEAN+3 countries and potentially present competition to Australian international education in the coming years.
  • The Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam has officially issued Circular 38, which provides the regulatory authority for the delivery of joint qualifications on online platforms. This is an outcome of the project “Building Vietnam’s Quality Assurance Capabilities of Blended and Online Higher Education Courses and Qualifications”, funded by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment. The circular presents opportunities for Australian education providers to develop new TNE models with Vietnamese academic institutions and promote online education capabilities of Australia.



  • World Bank’s representative for Kazakhstan, Jean-Francois Marto outlined the impact of COVID-19 on the education system will lead to continuing functional illiteracy, affecting another 100 thousand children from vulnerable categories. The market’s PISA results are expected to slip by eight ranks (Kazakhstan was ranked 69 in 2019). Closing schools, even for a short time, will increase the gap in reading progress between children from poor and rich families by 18 per cent, while future incomes of the ‘COVID-19 generation’ will most likely reduce by 2.9 per cent in future.
  • Students from wealthy families or graduates from high profile schools seek quality study abroad options. The total number of mobile students is about 84,000 who mainly choose to study in the UK, Germany, Canada and Russia.


  • Rector of Higher School of Economics Kuzminov stated at the EdTech on Demand Forum that online programs will account for up to 20 per cent by 2030, while one third will be delivered digitally, in the context of traditional programs offered by universities. The demand for short-term programs continues to grow, allowing students to obtain micro-competencies and increase employability. Universities will have to transform to survive in a growing competitive environment, including competing with emerging local corporate monopolies and edtech start-ups. Russian universities will look to increase their global share of the online education sector. Currently, St Petersburg Polytechnic University and Higher School of Economics (HSE) rank in top-10 on Coursera. Two thirds of Coursera’s 1.5 million online students enrolled to HSE are international students.
  • The Russian Government continues to support the national mega-grant program. It is focused on attracting leading foreign academics for joint research programs with Russian universities and research labs. For example, between now and 2023, 180 million US dollars will be provided to Tomsk Polytechnic University for two projects with Milan Polytechnic University and University of Aveiro in the field of medicine and ‘green chemistry’. Australian universities interested in collaboration with Russian universities may discuss the mega-grant opportunity with partner-institutions.
  • Following the Russian President degree on creation of 15 scientific and educational centres, five centres have been approved for grants: Engineering of the Future; Advanced Production Technologies and Materials; Russian Arctic; New Materials, Technologies and Research Methods; Eurasian Scientific-Educational Centre and TulaTECH. Earlier this year, five centres from Perm, Nizhny Novgorod, Tyumen and Kemerovo regions received more than 700 million rubles (AUD 12.8 million). A collaborative effort of universities, research labs and representatives of business and various sectors of economy will help increase the research potential of Russian regions. Australian organisations seeking new partners may have more opportunities to engage with regional universities in future.


  • Uzbekistan and Russian Governments are seeking ways to expand cooperation in the education sector. In December, the online Rectors’ forum was held to discuss research and academic collaboration opportunities. One of the agenda items focused on the operation of Russian universities branches in Uzbekistan, and identifying and removing barriers related to inconsistencies in the legislation. Current barriers to the development of joint projects include: a ban on obtaining the legal entity status by the branches, different approaches to reporting, land and property relations, and a language barrier for applicants from Uzbekistan. Despite unresolved issues, Australian institutions may benefit from starting discussions of potential future tri-lateral agreements with Russian partner universities who have strong presence in the market and are also looking to expand.

North Asia


  • The Chinese mainland recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases on 13 December 2020, including two locally transmitted cases in Heilongjiang Province. As of this date, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date on the mainland reached 86,741, including 4,035 imported cases. 13 regions in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, Heilongjiang and Xinjiang have been classified as medium-risk areas for COVID-19.
  • The Ministry of Education reported that China has successfully realised major goals set as part of the thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2015-20). The gross enrolment rate of senior high education in the country reached 89.5 percent in 2019, and the pre-school education rate reached 83.4 percent in the same year. China has also significantly improved access to higher education with its gross enrolment rate exceeding 51 percent in 2019. The country's working-age population average 10.7 years of education, and over half of those entering the labour market for the first time have accessed some form of higher education, with this segment of the population experiencing an average of 13.7 years education. The number of students from rural and poor areas enrolled in key universities has also increased, surpassing 520,000 over the five-year plan period.

Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is undergoing a fourth wave of COVID-19, with around a hundred cases confirmed every day this week. The Hong Kong Government has imposed stringent measures on social distancing, including a ban on group gatherings of more than two people in public places and stricter requirements for restaurants. Civil servants and corporate employees are encouraged to work from home.
  • The Hong Kong Education Bureau announced the suspension of in-person classes at all primary and secondary schools for the rest of the year, except those students who are preparing for secondary school entrance exams. Most local schools are arranging online classes for the remaining forms of students.

North America

United States of America

  • The Department of Education has launched an online portal to show how much states have spent on their education allocations, covering the $13.2 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER), $3 billion Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and $14 billion Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER).
  • Several large universities are planning to increase coronavirus testing in the spring after seeing outbreaks in the fall. The University of Florida, the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina are among the institutions ramping up or mandating testing after having laxer policies this fall.
  • Both the American Council on Education and NAFSA: Association of International Educators have written to United States President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on international education.
  • Parents and advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the State of California stating that it failed to meet a "constitutional obligation" to ensure equality in remote education during the coronavirus pandemic.

South Asia


  • Large Indian edtech companies including Byju's, Unacademy, Vedantu and Toppr have raised record AUD 2.63 billion this year as compared to AUD 2 billion raised over the last 5 years. Indian edtech companies are raising these funds on the back of strong growth, in demand for the online learning industry and accelerated adoption of technology products in the education sector. Edtech in India is showing signs of significant growth, which provides opportunities for Australian edtech companies and education providers to capitalise on market demand.
  • Austrade received interest from 14 Australian education providers for an opportunity to train teachers of Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). The interest received for this opportunity shows Australian education providers’ commitment to holistically develop the Indian market, beyond student recruitment, to generate medium-long term outcomes. Austrade will be engaging with these institutions to make relevant connections with the Indian government.

If you have questions, please contact the offices in market who can direct and assist in your enquiry. You can view Austrade office locations on our website.