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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 18 November 2020)

18 Nov 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
  • South Asia
  • Middle East and Africa
  • North Asia
  • North America



  • Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC) has engaged the Indonesian International Education Foundation (IIEF) to improve the English language proficiency of lecturers. According to MOEC, there are currently around 165,000 lecturers who are not yet certified in English (compared to the 270,000 lecturers who are). This collaboration focuses on the 10 new tourist destinations areas including Tanjung Lesung (Banten), Bromo (East Java), Labuan Bajo (Nusa Tenggara Timur), Tanjung Layang (Bangka Belitung Island), Kepulauan Seribu (DKI Jakarta), Wakatobi (South-east Sulawesi), Morotai Island (North Maluku), Borobudur (Central Java).
  • The Indonesian Directorate General for Vocational Education has started discussions with a number of European Education and Culture attaché’s, with the aim of attracting more Indonesian vocational and vocational higher education students to study in Europe. A possible strategy is to combine D-IV levels in Indonesia with European applied Masters programs. Also, to encourage study abroad, student exchange, and inviting expert teaching staff abroad to assist the government in improving Indonesia VET programs. It is yet to be seen what model of funding this will take.


  • A recent conditional movement control order (CMCO) enforced on states in the peninsula (except for Kelantan, Pahang and Perlis), requires all public schools in Malaysia to remain closed until the end of the school year. Classes are expected to continue online or home-based learning. All matriculation program students and teacher education institutes will continue with online learning until end of year. All school and vocational college students will resume face-to-face classes from 20 January, 2021 with the exception of Form Two (equivalent to last year of middle school) and Form Three (equivalent to first hear of high school) which will commence via online learning until face to face classes resume on 8 March. Parents have been vocal against these revised dates, while schools and administration continue to respond to the pressure to meet ever-changing requirements. Further changes to school face to face learning start dates for 2021 are expected.
  • The Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) (equivalent to IGCSE) exam dates have also been postponed to February next year which will have a domino effect on private higher education institutions. Enrolments will be affected and the delay will further impact on already declining student enrolments rates.
  • With Malaysia expecting a contraction gross domestic product (GDP) of 4.5 per cent in 2020, the country’s Budget 2021 is expected to kick-start economic recovery. Around a quarter of the federal budget has been allocated to support education. There is an emphasis on digital connectivity with RM7.4 billion allocated for Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to increase broadband services by 2022, coupled with telcos expecting to provide RM1.5 billion worth of benefits such as free data and the RM500 million allocation to implement the National Digital Network (JENDELA) initiative in 2021. A further RM450 million has been allocated in the budget for the National Connectivity Plan to ensure over 450 schools stay connected when students are learning from home. Meanwhile, a total of RM50 million will be allocated to improve internet connectivity in institutions of higher learning by upgrading the Malaysian Research and Education Network (MYREN) access line up to 10Gbps.
  • While the disparity between rural and urban connectivity will continue to be an issue, the emphasis on greater internet accessibility will help ease barriers for Australian edtech as teaching and learning environments become more flexible (ie on campus or at home).
  • On the government's efforts to address job creation, some RM50 million has been allocated for re-training programs for 8,000 airline staff. RM100 million grant for non-government organisations (NGO) involved in job creation will be matched with a RM100 million grant from government-linked companies.
  • To strengthen Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), RM6 billion will be allocated specifically to provide loans to 24,000 trainees to pursue TVET programs in public and private skills training institutions. The National Dual Training System Plus allowance will be increased to encourage more industry involvement in implementing TVET-based programs. This initiative involves a total allocation of RM60 million, benefitting 10,000 trainees.
  • While private higher education sector has little support from the government, the skills sector is poised to support upskilling and creating a 'digital first' workforce. In the coming year, industry recognised courses will be sought by local training providers as the sector looks to take advantage of available funding. It may provide an opportunity for online based short-course providers to be content partners to meet future skills demand.


  • On 28 October, the Department of Basic Education announced that it is impossible to hold matriculation examinations if the basic education schools cannot reopen. High schools were reopened on 21 July, but all schools were instructed to close again on 27 August. The Ministry of Education has not announced a date for reopening schools or conducting matriculation exams.
  • Myanmar general election took place on 8 November, 2020. The Union Election Commission (UEC) reported 70 per cent voter turnout. As at 15 November, official results released by the UEC showed the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a total of 396 parliamentary seats, surpassing its 2015 landslide victory.


  • The COVID-19 pandemic has further fast-tracked the digitalisation of the Philippine economy. Most sectors, including education, food industries and retail are pivoting towards a greater use of technology. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has started offering a training program for computer and phone technicians to meet the expected surge in demand for home and office technology servicing and repairs.


  • EduCanada and Education New Zealand will both host virtual education fairs on 28 November for Thai students, parents and education agents. These are the official annual government education fairs. NZ is targeting schools and tertiary, with around 20 New Zealand schools and 10 higher education institutions participating in the virtual fair. The EduCanada fair is larger scale, as they have invited students and parents from across the Asia-Pacific region to meet with 100 Canadian education.
  • Westminster International, one of the leading English language training centres in Thailand has launched the UK Foundation Program which will be delivered offshore in Bangkok commencing September 2020. The program is being run in partnership with King Education, a UK-based international education group that specialises in university pathways and English language teaching. The program seeks to attract high school graduates in Thailand who were not able to travel abroad to study, allowing them complete a one-year foundation program to prepare them for entry into first year universities in the UK, USA or Australia. The program also accepts students who have completed Year 11 or the GCSE ‘O’ level certificate equivalent.
  • Thai Airways announced flights from Bangkok for the first quarter of next year to 10 overseas destinations including Sydney – subject to travel and border restrictions. A weekly Bangkok-Sydney route is proposed, while flights to Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth are suspended until at least 27 March 2021. At this stage there is no indication of when travel between Thailand and Australia can resume.


  • Education New Zealand (ENZ) has recently approved funding for two proposals to boost the awareness of New Zealand schools in Vietnam whilst international travel is restricted. The first proposal is to fund 25 Vietnamese students to undertake an online program (AFS’s Global Competences Certificates) which connects students to become part of a global community of learners. The second initiative supports the development and implementation of a digital marketing strategy for 14 New Zealand schools. The schools sector is a key priority for ENZ with demonstrated growth over the last 2 years.
  • The Australian Visa Application Centres in Vietnam resumed limited operation from 28 October. Paper applications will not be accepted by mail or at the office.
  • Education Agents have also resumed in-person exhibitions from mid-October. This is a positive indicator for the Australian international education to prepare for renewal.
  • The Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam issued Circular 38, giving regulatory authority for the delivery of joint qualifications on online platforms. This is an outcome of the “Building Vietnam’s Quality Assurance Capabilities of Blended and Online Higher Education Courses and Qualifications” project, supported by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Circular 38 presents opportunities for Australian education providers to develop new TNE models with Vietnamese academic institutions and promote Australia’s online education capabilities.


Czech Republic

  • Czech universities and other education organisations filed 27 applications in the Extraordinary Erasmus+ calls to support digital education in response to COVID-19 and the shift to distance learning. Each application is worth EUR 300,000. The next Erasmus+ KA2 Digital Education Readiness call will be announced in spring 2021 under the new Erasmus+ 2021-2027 program. Universities and institutions can apply for grants to enhance their digital education capabilities. Eligible participating organisations include those from partner countries (outside the EU) if they prove to add high value. There are opportunities for Australian edtech providers to offer their online learning solutions.


  • Universities of Moscow and St Petersburg under the Ministry of Science and Higher Education have moved to online education until 6 February 2021.
  • A survey conducted by the Higher School of Economics found that 83 per cent of respondents representing 70 Russian universities expect a decrease in foreign student enrolments, particularly from the Commonwealth of Independent States and China. This is due to restricted borders and family financial instability.
  • Minister of Science and Higher Education Falkov announced the establishment of the consortium of technical universities who offer training in applied geology, mining, oil and gas. Chaired by St Petersburg Mining University, the consortium unites 14 universities across the country. About 140 universities offering at least 10 per cent of programs in the above areas are expected to join the association in future.

Middle East and Africa

United Arab Emirates

  • The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) school landscape data for 2020-21 reveals that half (53%) of school children are attending a combination of face to face and virtual classes in Dubai. The other half (47%) continue to study through 100 per cent distance learning. The schools will review their teaching model (face to face or distance learning) by end of December 2020 for the next semester commencing in January 2021.
  • Under the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives, a digital school to empower refugees and underserved students has launched in Dubai. The school will receive its first cohort of students in September 2021 with classes to be delivered virtually three times a week.

Saudi Arabia

  • Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia has launched a new Scholarship program called “Path of Excellence”. The program is under the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Overseas Scholarship program, and covers bachelor and master degrees and PhDs. The program covers 32 majors in 70 international universities. List of subjects can be found here (in Arabic): https://departments.moe.gov.sa/Scholarship/AltmuzProgram/Pages/Listofspecialties.aspx


  • The Ministry of Health has rejected the Education Ministry's request to hold written exams in schools for the first semester of the secondary stage, part of the Education Ministry's plan to return to schools in the second semester 20/21. In light of this, the Education Ministry is now considering a plan to transfer all secondary stage exams to May and June 2021.
  • The Higher Education Ministry has amended guidelines for Kuwaiti students on Masters scholarship program validity to 3 years instead of the original 2 with permission to extend the scholarship period if needed for one semester only. Students wishing to pursue their post-graduate studies will have to first complete their undergraduate studies without exceeding the agreed number of elective courses or exceeding the scholarship program required courses and regulations.


  • Turkish schools continue with blended education and a combination of online and face to face education given the current COVID-19 situation. Virtual education events are continuing.

South Africa

  • On 11 November, the President of the Republic of South Africa announced that the Government has decided to relax international travel rules and allow visitors from all countries to South Africa, provided they follow health and safety guidelines. International travel will remain restricted to the following International airports King Shaka International Airport (KZN); Cape Town International Airport, and OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg).


  • Chinese Ambassador, Sun Gongyi, expressed ongoing interest of the Chinese Government to collaborate with Mauritius in the education sector and to promote Chinese language in the country. The announcements were made at a ceremony where China donated teaching materials to Chinese schools in Mauritius. Chinese ethnicity groups make up about 3 per cent of the Mauritian population and their economic impact is significant.


  • Following lessons learned drawn from the partial re-opening of schools in Kenya, the Minister for Education announced that schools will re-open for second term from 4 January, 2021. As a result, the national examinations calendar is expected to change accordingly. In the past the examinations were held in October/November, this schedule will only return in 2023.
  • Education agents in Kenya have started to organise face to face students recruitment events while observing the safety precautions, this has been informed by the return on investment experienced from recent virtual events.
  • The President has instituted new measures to control the spread of the pandemic with government officials asked to work remotely and curfew hours 10.00pm to 4am.

North Asia


  • China's total investment in education in 2019 exceeded 5 trillion yuan (A$1 trillion) for the first time, an increase of 8.7 percent over the previous year's 4.6 trillion yuan (A$920 billion), according to statistics from the Ministry of Education. Government spending on education totalled over 4 trillion yuan, an increase of 8.3 percent year on year and accounting for 4.0 percent of the country's GDP. Chinese Government expenditure on education has now remained above 4 percent of GDP for eight consecutive years.
  • The 2020 edition of the Best Chinese Subjects ranking was released by Shanghai Ranking Consultancy on Oct 15. The ranking examines universities from the Chinese mainland that offer master's degrees in 96 national first-level subjects, and lists the universities in the top 50 percent of each subject by evaluating the universities' performances in each subject in areas including: talent cultivation, research projects, awards and achievements, academic publications and outstanding talents. Peking University and Tsinghua University tied for first place with 24 top subjects, and Renmin University of China ranked third with 10.
  • The number of US student visas granted to applicants from mainland China to study has collapsed, with just 808 issued between April and September 2020 according to NikkeiAsia (citing State Department data). This is a fall of 99 per cent compared to the 90,410 issued in the same period last year. Beyond the COVID pandemic limiting student mobility, stricter US screening requirements and deepening bilateral tensions are blamed.

North America


  • A recent survey by a Canadian edtech company called Top Hat whose courseware platform is used by about 750 colleges, finds that nearly three-quarters of students who say their instructors are meaningfully interacting and engaging with them say they are likely to return for the spring semester, compared to less than two-thirds of students who disagree that their professors are doing so. This showcases that undergraduates who are studying online this fall rate their learning experience as modestly better than what they encountered last spring. The survey's findings are a mixed bag for colleges at a time when many of them need to shift to virtual rather than in-person learning.
  • Covid has accelerated the digital transformation of education in Canada, edtech is slowly picking up pace witnessing an increase in funding. A Canadian edtech company (Knowledgehook) recently raised $20M to meet the raising demand for its technology. Knowledgehook’s AI-enabled platform and research-based solution has garnered industry leading partnerships and investments from the most recognized global education brands, such as Nelson, Radix, Spectrum, Eastpoint, Nasco Education and the University College of London, the global leader in education research. Knowledgehook’s business model revolves around collaborating with Ministries and Departments of Education while also working directly with school districts, to offer curriculum-aligned solutions.
  • International students are likely to play a significant role in the government achieving its immigration targets between 2021 and 2023. The Canadian government has announced plans to welcome some 1,233,000 new permanent residents into the country between 2021 and 2023, something that Universities Canada says will be a “positive signal” to international students.

United States

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September that 152,000 fewer workers were employed in private and state-controlled institutions of higher education, compared to August. This builds from the net number of employees who left the industry between February to September, where the figure stands at 484,000.
  • Updated statistics from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center from our last update has now seen a 4.4 per cent decline in undergraduate students in Fall 2020, when compared to last year. Native American (-9.6 per cent) and Black (-7.5 per cent) students suffered the most as well as a drop in international students (-13.7 per cent).
  • In addition, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center saw a 6.1 per cent increase in the enrolment at primarily online institutions in Fall 2020, when compared to last year.
  • The provider of the SAT exam, the College Board, reported that 31 per cent of the students who had registered to take the exam were unable to take the test due to closed testing sites and reduced capacity.
  • An academic journal by research NFP NWEA reports that learning gains during the 2019-20 school year are expected to be significantly lower than typical years due to the "COVID slide”.

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