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Austrade regional market update on the impact of COVID-19 (as at 21 October 2020)

21 Oct 2020

Austrade will provide weekly 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 Directorate General of Higher Education (Ditjen Dikti) launched the Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium recently, as an effort to prepare the Artificial Intelligence (AI) workforce.
  • The department predicts over 250,000 skilled workers with experience in AI are required within five years, for Indonesia to remain globally competitive. In particular, AI skills in food, health, security, manufacturing and transportation will be important for developing Indonesia’s economy. The consortium is a collaboration between the Indonesian government and strategic partners such as Nvidia, Google, Amazon Web Services, Huawei.
  • The Indonesian Government has included development of AI skills as a national strategic priority along with health, bureaucratic reform, education and research, food security, and the mobilization of smart cities.
  • This plan to increase AI talent will provide opportunities for Australian education and training providers and AI organisations from Australia.


  • Due to a recent spike of COVID-19 cases, Malaysia has declared Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Putrajaya and the state of Sabah, in lockdown under a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) for two weeks. It is unclear however if the CMCO will truly be lifted after the allocated time, considering current number of active cases. While economic activity for the most part has continued, educational institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities have been forced to close.
  • Many education institutions have returned, via fully online teaching and learning modes. Private institutions can continue with external and international examinations. This includes students undertaking the A-Levels, Australian matriculation exams, and Canadian pre-university exams. The Ministry of Higher Education has exempted 3,031 local students and 195 international students in the affected areas.
  • The Malaysian Immigration Department has postponed entry of existing and new foreign students into the country until 31 December.
  • The Malaysia Cyber Security Strategy (MCSS) 2020-2024 was launched on 12 October, with an allocated MYR $1.8 billion (~AUD $611 million) to step up national cyber security preparedness. The plan will be implemented and monitored by the National Cyber Security Agency. Of the five pillars encompassing 12 strategies, 35 actions plan and 113 programs; Pillar 3 of the MCSS aims to catalyse world class innovation, technology, and R&D. It looks to build a cyber security innovation ecosystem in Malaysia through strategic initiatives, including the National Cyber Security R&D Program. There will be opportunities in the coming years for Australian industry and training experts to partner with Malaysia to help strengthen the nation’s cyber security ecosystem.
  • Digital skills continue to be a key objective for Malaysian institutions, thereby promoting technology related programs including data science, digital entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and computer science disciplines. Therefore, the adoption of online learning by many universities has represented a timely opportunity for students to build their digital skillset. Many non-profit organisations in Malaysia are equally supporting this move towards technology, providing free or subsidised programs in similar fields, for local communities.


  • On 15 October, the Department of Education (DBE) launched the Basic Education Schools Quality Assurance Standards Framework (BE-SQASF), with support from the Australian Government My-EQIP program, aiming for all levels of education to be aligned with the national quality assurance (QA) systems.
  • The BE-SQASF is an important step towards the National Education Strategic Plan 2016-2021. The BE-SQASF and associated School Quality Improvement Plans (SQIPs) will be progressively implemented in all schools in Myanmar from 2019. The implementation plan is now being revised based on the COVID-19 situation so that the phased sub-national implementation can continue when schools reopen. The BE-SQASF Development Team continue to deliver the training for this framework to officials, with support from Australia in DBE’s pivot to online learning in response to COVID-19.
  • The Ministry of Education also launched Teacher Competency Standards Framework (TCSF) on 5 October as part of World Teachers’ Day. TCSF is a tool for teachers’ continuing professional development. It is also a guidance document for policy makers and curriculum developers responsible for teacher education (pre- and in-service) and basic education. Australia supports the implementation of the TCSF validation study in Myanmar, through UNESCO — Strengthening Pre-Service Teacher Education in Myanmar (STEM) project.
  • TCSF is a significant and influential policy development. It marks the development of Myanmar’s first competency framework for teachers, and building blocks for long-term, systemic improvement in the quality of Myanmar’s teachers.

The Philippines

  • The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) launched a free training program for returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who lost their jobs during the pandemic as part of a government initiative to support re/upskilling. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 315,643 OFWs have arrived in the country. The training program offers 0ver 70 courses focused on customer service and leads to a National Certificate (NC II). Most enrolments are in electronics, tourism, entrepreneurship, IT, and 21 century skills programs.
  • The Department of Science and Technology identified the most suitable technologies to help with deploying distance learning, including television frequencies and digital television. The varying levels of accessibility to technology and connectivity across the country remain key challenges.
  • The University of the Philippines held a virtual ceremony for the start of their 2020-21 academic year. With a greater emphasis on resilience and adaptability, a new virtual program and way of learning presents opportunities for Australia to offer training on soft and psychosocial skills to compliment traditional university curriculum.


  • Thailand’s Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) plans to launch an intensive English program requiring all students to study English for five hours a week. This is in response to the Ministry of Education’s requirement that Thai schools must deliver more than five hours of English language classes per week to increase proficiency to (at least) upper-intermediate. The current mini-English program in Thai schools will be replaced by this intensive English program.
  • The Council of the University Presidents of Thailand has changed its regulations to allow students more time to complete their degrees. Students are now allowed to have an unlimited time to complete their studies for all types of degrees at Thai universities. Previously, students were required to complete bachelor degrees in eight years, masters’ degrees in five years and six years for doctoral degree. This rule has been approved by the council to ensure there are sufficient workers to address industry skills shortages, as well as to increase students’ competency in real work environments.
  • Canada announced intentions to re-open borders to international students from 20 October. New Zealand is also aiming to allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter and continue their studies in November. However, education agents in Thailand do not think these announcements will have significant impact on Thai students.
  • The re-opening of borders may benefit a small number of Thai government scholarships in New Zealand, but generally, Thai students who had visas to study in New Zealand were enrolled in ELICOS and schools courses and have subsequently switched to study domestically.
  • Meanwhile there is concern for students wishing to study in Canada, given its close proximity to the United States. However, if other English speaking study destinations remain closed into next year, Canada is expected to be more favourable for Thai students because of their good track record against COVID-19 over other study destinations.


  • The Ministry of Education and Training has officially 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. There are opportunities for Australian education providers to develop new TNE models with Vietnamese academic institutions and promote online education capabilities of Australia.
  • In August, the Ministry of Education and Training issued an official instruction to all city/provincial education authorities on delivering STEM education at school level. The document aims to raise awareness and build capacity for managers, school leaders and teachers on STEM education with detailed suggestions on STEM models and how to build and deliver lesson plans. This presents an opportunity for Australian providers interested in Vietnam schools and edtech markets.


Czech Republic

  • On 22 October Austrade Prague will host a webinar showcasing research capabilities of five Australian universities. These universities specialise in organic, bio-organic and medicinal chemistry for post-docs research collaboration to students at the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague. The webinar will be of interest to students considering research fellowships in these fields.
  • Elementary and secondary schools are closed for in-class learning from 12 October (universities switched to online only in September) until 2 November.
  • GAUDEAMUS, the biggest education fair has cancelled all face-to-face events venues, instead conducting virtual presentations for universities and education agents. Austrade will run an online Study in Australia promotion on the Gaudeamus website for one year. The website is visited by 75 per cent of secondary school leavers on an ongoing basis as they determine their further study careers.


  • A new international university campus housing 10,000 students will be built in Tashkent by 2021, as part of a US$500 million investment project. The university aims to collaborate with leading international universities to become the best and largest in the region.


  • Foreign students from Kyrgyzstan, Belarusia, Kazakhstan and South Korea can now enter Russia to continue studying at local campuses. The majority of students from other countries will continue to study online.
  • Lomonosov Moscow State University is to open new scientific and educational schools as part of university development programs. From January 2021, education and research will be undertaken in Space; Preservation of cultural and historical heritage; Cognitive systems, artificial intelligence; Mathematical methods for the analysis of complex systems; Molecular technologies of living systems and synthetic biology; Photonic and quantum technologies and digital medicine; Future of the planet: global environmental monitoring.
  • According to Raiffeisenbank, its customers have increased education spending by more than 30 per cent in 2020. The proportion spent on online education has reached 47 per cent in April.

Middle East and Africa

United Arab Emirates

  • The UAE Government has announced the academic calendar for public and private schools for the next three years until 2022-2023.
  • The Ministry of Education launched an interactive virtual platform ‘We Make Our Policies’ which allows students, parents and teachers to be part of decision-making in developing and creating future education policies.


  • In recent weeks COVID-19 cases have been increasing, with the government announcing some lockdown measures and encouraging people to adhere to the health protocols such as wearing masks in public places.
  • All School and academic courses have been delivered on virtual platforms since the start of the academic year in September. All research labs remain closed. Most universities have developed their own online platforms, although there are opportunities for Australian edtech organisations to demonstrate efficiencies.


  • The Ministry of Education announced an extension of voluntary classroom education to the 2, 3, 4, 8 and 12 grades effective from 12 October 2020. Students will only be attending face-to-face educatıon two days a week but participation is not compulsory.


  • The Nigerian Ministry of Education ordered all schools to reopen from 12 October, mandating that they adhere to guidelines provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The Lagos State Government announced resumption of all remaining classes in both public and private schools commencing 19 October. Physical resumption for the 2020/2021 academic session will now include pupils in pre-primary, kindergarten and nursery schools.
  • Strike action against the Nigerian Federal government by university lecturers has not been resolved with negotiations set for 21 October. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) who started this industrial strike action over six months ago, is a major reason why universities are yet to resume after the easing of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Their demands includes revitalisation of public universities.


  • Tertiary schools in the country will resume normal school activities in January 2021 according to President Nana Akufo-Addo. The academic year for new and continuing university students will commence from January 2021. Schools had been closed since 15 March, 2020, as part of the government’s measures to curtail the spread of the COVID-19. Educational institutions subsequently have been reopened in phases for final year students to complete their academic year.
  • The Ghana Education Service (GES) have decided to promote students to the next lgrade without assessment or examination.
  • The First Lady of Ghana, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, launched the first-ever Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Expo in Accra, organised by the Education Ministry in partnership with COTVET and the GIZ. The TVET EXPO aimed to showcase the reforms and achievements in technical education and to help change the negative perceptions of the sector.
  • Private universities have raised concerns over further possible shutdowns due to restrictions. The Association of Private Universities in Ghana fears the imminent collapse of their institutions if nothing is done to address the challenges they face due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.


  • Phased re-opening of schools commenced in Kenya on 12 October. National examinations have been rescheduled for April 2021.
  • The re-opening of schools is in the backdrop of rising COVID cases which the Ministry of Health warns could be a second wave. The Ministry has indicated that there may be re-introduction of restrictions if the trend continues.
  • Agents have resumed face to face recruitment events, though for limited numbers of students. Agents are conscious of student preferences for face to face engagement.

South Africa

  • COVID-19 cases are still increasing. Level 1 restrictions are still in place, with a curfew from midnight to 4.00am, social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing still required. The recovery rate is at 90.2 per cent. The Government extended the national state of disaster until 15 November.. Schools and universities are open with necessary health protocols.

North Asia


  • On 29 September, the Ministry of Education (MoE), together with eight other government bodies released an Action Plan (Chinese language only) to lift the quality of vocational education for the period 2020-2023. According to the Plan, China will strengthen and modernise the systematic management of vocational education and speed up the development of a “national credit bank” for vocational education. The Plan encourages additional vocational colleges to join the “1+X program” which allows institutions to offer a qualification plus a number of skills certificates. The Plan also flags a reform of vocational education teacher training and emphasises the importance of industry-based learning and integration in vocational education, as well as encouraging the development of pathways into higher vocational education.
  • Qingdao, a coastal city in East China's Shandong province, has completed testing of nearly 11 million residents since 12 October, following the emergence of a new cluster of COVID-19 infections.
  • The MoE has unveiled guidelines on accelerating the reform and development of postgraduate education in the country. By 2025, it is planned that postgraduate education will have an optimized “scale and structure”, improved institutions, enhanced education quality, and growing international influence. By 2035, the intent is that China will have developed into a leading country for postgraduate education “with Chinese characteristics”. The guidelines indicate that institutions should prioritise the development of postgraduate students' capabilities in innovation, science and technology, as well as other key fields. Please refer to the MoE website for full details (Chinese language only).
  • China plans to produce more high-calibre public health specialists, as part of efforts to strengthen the health system. A guideline on accelerating the development of China's medical education, recently issued by the State Council, states that a number of high-level public health schools should be built in the country's top universities. It also calls for improving the “practical capabilities,” of Chinese undergraduate students majoring in preventive medicine and enhancing medical teaching and research cooperation among medical institutions, centres for disease prevention and control, and infectious disease hospitals.

North America


  • In a boost to the $22 billion international student sector, Canada announced that its borders will once again open to international students from 20 October. This announcement is subject to the individual universities, colleges and language schools plan to quarantine students for 14 days and the respective provincial government's approval.
  • Statistics Canada has projected that Canadian universities could lose as much as $3.4 billion this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the decrease in the number of foreign students.

United States of America

  • An analysis by the Wall Street Journal, saw that public universities in California, Florida and Maryland were the most vulnerable financially to a drop in international student recruitment.
  • A survey by the American Council of Education with college presidents saw;
    • The top issues facing presidents due to COVID-19 are mental health of students (53 per cent), long-term financial viability (43 per cent) and mental health of faculty and staff.
    • 55 per cent of participants said that total enrolment decreased in fall 2020, as compared to enrolment in fall 2019.
    • 55 per cent of participants had a predominantly online mode of instruction, with some in-person instruction for fall 2020, compared to 15 per cent in fall 2019.
    • The top institutional expenses that increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic are technology investments (92 per cent), cleaning and maintenance (90 per cent) and student financial aid (75 per cent).
    • The top institutional expenses that decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic are special programs (93 per cent), auxiliaries (73 per cent) and room and board (61 per cent).
    • The most common actions taken to mitigate the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are hiring freezes (61 per cent), freeze on employee compensation/salary increases (54 per cent), and renegotiating contracts for outsourced services (36 per cent).
  • A survey by the National Parents Union saw 58 per cent of students overall are learning entirely online, while another 18 per cent are receiving a combination of remote and in-person instruction. Less than a quarter of students are learning fully in-person. In addition, it saw that 75 per cent of Black parents and 68 per cent of Hispanic parents said their child was learning fully online, that was true for only 48 per cent of white parents.

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