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Observations from a Trade Commisioner: Scott Morriss — Austrade Tokyo

30 Aug 2019

Scott Morriss, Trade Commissioner in Tokyo manages the Japanese Business Development team in the education sector. The team recently hosted an education agent roundtable to discuss trends and gather market insights of relevance to Australian providers. This article shares headline findings to assist in planning strategies for Japan. Additionally, the recent AFUEE Japan 2019 event and insight report and the report on latest trends in the Japanese education market support these findings in understanding the Japanese market.


What are the key opportunities for Australian education organisations in Japan market? Please include reference to any relevant trade and investment drivers as well.

Key areas of growth for Australia include:

Higher education

  • With the push from corporate Japan seeking graduates with high-level English communication skills and knowledge to drive their business globally, there is growing interest for undergraduate studies overseas.
  • US universities are still the most popular but there has been a perceptible shift away, and students are increasingly looking towards Australia, with its advantage of offering flexible pathway into undergraduate degree programs.
  • Six months to one year study abroad programs are also growing in appeal, and compared to before, agents acknowledge a higher level of English is allowing students to undertake diploma or undergraduate level programs, rather than long duration ELICOS programs.
  • A high-impact agent noted growing interest in postgraduate course work degrees, particularly in business and engineering by mid-career professionals wanting to upskill through Australian qualifications.


  • More Japanese high schools students, typically in years 10 and 11, are seeking study experiences from a term to one-year duration.
  • As Japanese students need to factor in the entrance exam preparation for university admissions, two to three months is the most comfortable period for study.
  • Both Australia and New Zealand have an advantage of the school period aligning favourably for students to undertake a term abroad.


  • English studies continues to be the top goal for Japanese studying abroad and Australia continues to be second most popular destination following the US, with students numbers growing. For Japanese university students undertaking short-term English studies or study tours, Australia is the top destination.
  • Agents noted that Japanese students are seeking a wider variety of choice when choosing which institutions to study at. Institutions that can offer classes that cater for various levels of English and have more elective subjects, such as barista, hospitality English, volunteer programs and internships, are more attractive.

What are the main challenges for Australian education organisations when operating in your market?

  • The key challenge for Australian education organisations when operating in Japan is maintaining frequent and effective touch points with your local partners, particularly with education agents.
  • Most Japanese agents work with hundreds of education institutions around the world and counsellors need to understand your unique offerings and be motivated to continue a partnership with you. Engagement is best conducted face to face, and multiple times per year.
  • Agents mentioned that their best partners are those that visit them at least twice a year, and provide information that makes it easier to articulate their institution’s point of difference to their customers, have good stories about their placed students or alumni, a history of attending market events frequently, and ideally a bonus of Japanese speaking staff.

What are Australia’s competitors doing differently in your market?

Our key competitors in Japan are the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. What they are doing better than Australia is:

  • visiting the market more frequently, at least twice a year, to participate in government or agent organised education exhibitions. Raising awareness through face-to-face events is still an essential part of the marketing mix in Japan, particularly for promoting longer term courses. Canada and NZ in particular have raised their brand significantly over the past few years as a result of having sustained and regular in-market promotion.
  • valuing the relationship with education agents and taking a longer term approach to developing relationships, including collaborative work on local promotional activities. Some agents mentioned that Australian institutions have a reputation of tending to be more transactional in nature, and do not recognise the highly-competitive nature of the market.
  • articulating a value proposition well beyond rankings, particularly universities. Key agents note that Australian universities demonstrate an over-reliance on rankings-based value propositions.

What are the key education initiatives in your market plan?

  • If you are keen to grow your market in Japan, one of the key initiatives our team coordinates in cooperation with the state governments is our flagship education event which runs annually in Tokyo and Osaka in June. This is a ‘whole of Australia’ branding activity which provides institutions a chance to promote directly to prospective students and parents in Japan.
  • We also conduct agent-facing activities throughout the year, including agent workshops to ensure local agents are up to date with the latest information on studying in Australia.
  • As always, my colleagues are here to assist you with your individual needs in developing leads in Japan. We can provide you with briefings, sector specific insights, and assistance in building relationships with agents and institutions in market.

We look forward to working with you in Japan!

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