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OPINION: UNBREAKABLE BONDS OF EDUCATION AND RESEARCH

I want to talk to you about education and research and how they bring China and Australia closer together. This is illustrated by a very productive friendship between a young man from Hangzhou, Jian Zhou, and Ian Frazer — an Australian professor who is originally from Glasgow.

Frazer recruited his friend to the University of Queensland. Together they invented the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil.

It is difficult to describe how important this is. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, after breast cancer. More than a half million new cases are reported worldwide every year.

The latest version of the vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against 93 per cent of cervical cancers. The vaccine also protects against other cancers found in the head and neck.

Australia was one of the first countries to start free, ongoing vaccinations for 12 and 13-year-olds. Not surprisingly, China is also adopting Gardasil.

Last March, the Chinese government approved the rollout of the vaccine. It’s now available to women under 45 in Shanghai — a city with a population almost the same size as Australia.

As chief executive of Universities Australia, I see stories like this every day. All of them point to the extraordinary progress we can make when we work together, person to person, across national boundaries.

At Bond University, researchers are working with Chinese colleagues to develop 3D-printed small exhibition centres. This will provide a cheap and safe alternative to traditional building materials. Other joint projects are helping to make sure both our countries can keep feeding our growing populations. In China, where there are over 1.3 billion mouths to feed, this is hugely important.

For example, a University of Queensland project, funded by the Queensland-Chinese Academy of Sciences, will help Australian and Chinese farmers predict crop yields from space. They will use satellites and physical modelling to give farmers information at the field level that they need to estimate yield.

Australia-China collaboration is not just helping feed people — it’s also powering both countries. Earlier this year, UNSW professor Martin Green became the first Australian to win the Global Energy Prize for his work on solar panels. Martin has also trained over 100 PhD students — many from China.

One of his former students took the solar panel technology home and now manufactures the panels in China. And he’s not alone. Many of China’s largest solar power companies started as Australian-Chinese ventures.

This know-how and technology are helping China generate clean, efficient and cheap energy in a time when renewables are becoming increasingly important for us all.

This spirit of entrepreneurship isn’t just inspired by joint research that connects with business; it’s also driven by education. Australia’s world-class universities educate the majority of the 560,000 overseas students who study here from a vast array of countries. They include students from China.

This vital exchange goes two ways. The Australian government’s New Colombo Plan sees students take on exchange and professional placements across the Indo-Pacific. For Australian students on the NCP, the most popular language is Mandarin and the most popular study destination is China.

Our students exchange ideas and develop deep understanding of each other’s culture, laws and history. These long-lasting social, economic and political ties bring us all closer together. They build relationships that help us do ­business and identify common interests.

Students from Australia and China are already doing this in new and exciting ways. Take, for example, Meng Yao, who is doing an MBA but also managing a global staff of 22 people in an education company she set up.

Australian universities are already well placed to help students such as Meng. They are the driving force in Australia’s start-up economy — worth about $160 billion to our economy.

Four in five start-up founders in Australia are university graduates, with more than 100 programs at Australian universities to support start-ups and around one in five founders coming out of an acceleration or incubation program.

There’s also a growing list of university programs and courses that help students learn the entrepreneurial skills they will need to turn a clever idea into a new ­business.

Finally, both Australian and Chinese students need practical workplace experience. Universities are doing great work with this already — but we cannot provide opportunities alone.

This is where business comes in. Our world-class universities are creating the globally literate and savvy graduates we need to work and succeed in one of the world’s most dynamic, complex and rapidly changing places — the Asian region and beyond.

Australian universities are producing some of the best talent around. They are Asia-literate and highly educated. These are the global citizens that will shape the future. They will have careers and impact that people of my generation can only dream of.

So if you run a business, get in early. Work with your local universities to offer placements and internships before graduation. This work-integrated learning has enormous benefits for students and employers.

You might just play a part in bringing together the next Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou.

Catriona Jackson is chief executive of Universities Australia. This is an edited version of a speech she gave to the Australia China Business Council on September 18 at Bond University.

As published in The Australian on 26 September 2018

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