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Trade and Investment Commissioner Update: Sharon Bignell — Austrade Osaka

22 Nov 2021

Sharon Bignell, Trade and Investment Commissioner for Education in North East Asia shares a region update on market trends and opportunities across Japan, Korea and Mongolia. Specific market intelligence and opportunities are identified for student recruitment in each of these markets.


Prior to the pandemic, Japan was Australia’s fifth largest source market for ELICOS, schools and non-award sectors, and a well-known source of short-term study tour groups. Prior to COVID-19, over 40,000 Japanese high school and university students were visiting Australia each year as part of a short-term study tour.

From 1 December 2021, Japanese citizens who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel from Japan to Australia without seeking a travel exemption and quarantine-free to participating states and territories (currently NSW, VIC and the ACT). Japanese students will be able to resume or commence their studies if they hold a valid Australian visa such as a student visa, working holiday visa or ETA. It is expected the number of Japanese students will gradually increase for both long- and short-term study throughout 2022.

Market trends

While the pandemic has obviously had a heavy impact on all the key sectors, Australia continues to have a very positive image in Japan, thanks to strong people-to-people links, and a reputation for quality education, safety, and an abundance of lifestyle opportunities.

The Japanese government also continues to attach importance to developing English and cross-cultural skills in young people and is offering scholarships for both short- and long-term overseas study, to encourage more Japanese to study abroad.

ELICOS has traditionally been what most Japanese study, however we are seeing increased interest in the Schools sector and Higher Education sector, particularly at the Bachelor level.

While Japanese students’ preference is still for on-campus education, and with key competitor countries having accepted students for face-to-face study for some time, there are Japanese students who have decided to switch destinations in order to commence in-country study sooner, with Canada in particular gaining in popularity.

In addition to our traditional competitors, options within the region are becoming increasingly popular and we expect this trend to continue post-pandemic as Japanese students opt to stay closer to home or look for more affordable options.


  • We are seeing growing interest in dual or double diploma programs among Japanese high schools, where students complete both the Japanese and overseas high school curriculum during their senior high school, and receive two high school diplomas upon graduation
  • We are also seeing interest from Japanese universities to set up dual or double degrees as they look to differentiate themselves in the highly competitive domestic market, and also welcome more international students to their campuses by offering more degrees in English
  • Study Abroad is another area of interest, particularly one-year programs at universities that combine English for Academic Purposes (EAP) with a semester of academic study
  • A final area of opportunity is hosting short-term study tours. As Japanese institutions are risk-averse and 10-days quarantine is still required for re-entry to Japan at this time, we believe virtual programs will likely remain an attractive option for many Japanese institutions well into 2022. We continue to raise awareness of the quality and variety of online programs Australian institutions can provide to encourage more Japanese institutions to go virtual, while also continuing to promote the diverse range of face-to-face programs available face-to-face in-country.

Doing business

Finally, a couple of points about doing business in Japan. This really is a relationship-driven market, where mutual trust is key.

Agents are important. Almost all students apply via them, and students and parents place significant trust in them. Make sure you keep in touch, even if they may be finding it hard to send you students at the moment.

For those with institutional partners, touching base to see if they are interested in any of your virtual programs or are looking to re-commence in-country programs following the announcement of the Japan travel bubble, may lead to opportunities.


Korea is another important diversity market. In 2019, it was Australia’s eighth largest source market overall, third largest source market for Schools, fifth largest for VET, seventh largest for ELICOS and twelfth largest for higher education.

From 1 December 2021, Korean citizens who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel from Korea to Australia without seeking a travel exemption and quarantine-free to participating states and territories (currently NSW, VIC and the ACT). Korean students will be able to resume or commence their studies if they hold a valid Australian visa such as a student visa, working holiday visa or ETA. It is expected the number of Korean students will gradually increase for both long- and short-term study throughout 2022.

Market trends

Traditionally, Australia has been seen as an attractive destination for Koreans wanting to gain practical skills or work experience and internships as part of their studies, while the Post Study Work Visa is also popular with Higher Education graduates.

For these reasons, most Koreans have been keen to study face-to-face despite the pandemic, and in the latest Korean Ministry of Education statistics from April 2020, we saw Australia slip from 3rd place behind the US and China, to fifth place — with Japan and Canada increasing their enrolments.

Anecdotal evidence from agents suggests Higher Education students are more willing to wait to commence their studies or start online and transfer onshore later, however ELICOS, Schools and VET sector students have been switching, primarily to Canada.


The Korean Government has been proactively looking to attract foreign universities and schools to set-up branch campuses in Korea and is providing incentives for them to do so. One reason is to attract more international students to Korea, and another is to encourage more Koreans to choose to study at home as the student-age population declines.

  • In the Incheon Free Economic Zone, there are now five foreign branch campuses, primarily American universities
  • In Jeju Island, there are a number of international schools from Canada, the US, UK and Korea

The Korean Government is also keen to expand online and blended learning delivery models including in collaboration with foreign providers, and recently allowed 100 per cent online joint degrees between Korean and foreign universities. However, demand is not that high from Korean institutions to set these up yet. Generally, when developing partnerships, Korean universities prefer to start with smaller engagements — such as Study Abroad/Exchange or short-term study tours — and then scale up to joint programs once the partnership is more established.

Doing business

In terms of doing business in Korea, relationships are also key, and are forged through frequent engagement, quick responses to questions or issues, and support for events and activities. Keep engaging with your partners, and participate in their webinars and events where possible, to maintain your relationships and brand profile in the market. 


Finally, moving to the Mongolian market. This is a market not as familiar to many but was one of the fastest growing source countries with double-digit growth every year from 2012 up until the onset of the pandemic.

Market trends

While Australia was the second most-preferred English-speaking study destination for Mongolian students behind the US prior to the pandemic, online learning is not the norm in Mongolia, so this put us in a challenging competitive position to secure new commencements of Mongolian students if they were not already onshore

However, all the fundamentals are there for the market to bounce back now that border restrictions are easing, and for Australian universities, there are a range of scholarships available for Mongolian students including DFAT Australia Awards Scholarships for postgraduate study, and Mongolian government scholarships for those admitted to an Australian university ranked in the top 100. Many large companies also sponsor their staff to undertake postgraduate study in Australia.

Foreign degrees and English language skills do attract a premium for graduates in the Mongolian job market, and for those who are self-funded, they are not particularly rankings driven and are more focused on price and on gaining practical skills that will lead to employment outcomes.

Another characteristic of the market is that over 80 per cent of Mongolians choose to study in Sydney, and this trend is similar no matter what sector they are studying in as a large Mongolian community has formed there with strong positive word of mouth.

In terms of opportunities that don’t depend on borders, opportunities exist to partner with large companies in Mongolia (particularly mining companies) and/or Mongolian education providers to deliver short courses and skills training online to meet the demand arising from new mining, construction and infrastructure projects.

Austrade team

Austrade has a team in North East Asia to help you achieve your goals in the region, so please reach out if there is anything we can support you with.

Sharon Bignell — Trade and Investment Commissioner for Education. Austrade North East Asia.

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