The Hon. James Merlino travel report China July 2016

The​​ Hon. James Merlino​ – travel report –​ China, July 2016 (pdf - 3.3mb)

​​​​​​Minister​James Merlino
​Portfolio​Education, Emergency Services
​Accompanied by spouse in an official capacity​No
​Accompanying ministerial staff​C​hief of Staff – Ilsa Colson
Countries visited​China
​Date of travel​3-9 July 2016
​Number of official days (including date of departure and return)7​
Funding sourceDepartment of Education and Training (DET)
​Other expenses705
​Travel cost for minister and staff
​Are the above costs final and complete?​​Yes

Purpose of Travel

​From 3-9 July 2016, I travelled to China accompanied by the Minister for Families and Children, the Hon Jenny M​​ikakos MP and visited the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Tianjin. The purpose of my travel to China was to:

  • strengthen the bilateral relationship between Victoria and China, in line with the Victorian Government’s new China Strategy and, in particular, lay the foundation for a Sister State Agreement with Sichuan Province prior to the Premier travelling there in September 2016
  • support the strong education relationships Victoria has with China, particularly with the PRC Ministry of Education, at a State/Province level on initiatives like the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program, and the support Victoria receives for Chinese language learning
  • continue to build provider and people-to-people links between Victoria and China, including the many existing and potential sister school partnerships, teacher exchanges and curriculum collaborations (including offshore Victorian Certificate of Education delivery)
  • promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students, supporting the aims of the Government’s International Education Sector Strategy. In particular, this involved highlighting the State’s livability credentials, high quality education system, and safe and diverse community
  • share information to strengthen whole-of-life education outcomes for children in both of our jurisdictions, including:
    • maternal and child health, early childhood, primary and secondary education
    • intercultural understanding, language learning, STEM and critical thinking.

Benefits of travel to the state of Victoria

The meeting and activities undertaken during this trip directly supported the following directions of the Victorian Government’s China Strategy ‘Partnerships for Prosperity’ by:

  • ​establishing Victoria as Australia’s centre of excellence for Asia insights and capabilities
  • building connections through reciprocal cultural partnerships and by establishing new platforms for people-to-people engagement
  • strengthening government alliances within China’s economic development zones
  • attracting investment, including into the Government’s infrastructure pipeline, to support Victoria’s continued economic growth.

The visit also supported the Victorian Government’s vision for Victoria, the Education State, where we are recognised nationally and internationally for the skills, knowledge, expertise and outlook of our people and as a place where our innovation and pursuit of new knowledge, skills and jobs draws others to live, work and invest.

The visit produced several new agreements and partnerships, trade outcomes, and new initiatives to increase collaboration between our jurisdictions, and identified further opportunities to collaborate in future.

The key elements of the visit were as follows:

Objective 1: Strengthen the bilateral relationship between Victoria and China

In Tianjin, I met with the Vice Mayor to discuss potential education collaboration, broader links between Victoria and Tianjin, and the key relationship between the City of Melbourne and the City of Tianjin – a top-5 city in China with an economy nearly the size of Victoria’s.

In Tianjin, I attended a reception hosted by Melbourne City Council to acknowledge their sister city relationship with Tianjin. The event also involved RMIT, which has a presence in Tianjin, as well as key decision makers, education agents and other friends of Victoria.

I met with one of the largest state-owned enterprises in China, which will shortly announce an opening of their Melbourne office as their Australian headquarters. The name of this company cannot be revealed prior to the announcement.

​Objective 2: Support the strong education relationships Victoria has with China

In Beijing, I met with the Chinese Ministry of Education, to discuss a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) and the Chinese Ministry of Education  – the fifth such agreement in a close collaboration dating back almost thirty years. The MOU is a critical support for Chinese language learning in Victorian schools and school to school collaboration between Victoria and China. 

In Chengdu, I met with the Chengdu Education Bureau, to discuss opportunities to further collaborate in school education, and in particular to announce the expansion of the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program into Sichuan Province – Victoria’s future Sister State. 

In Shanghai, I met with a number of key education allies for Victoria, as well as the Australian Consul-General.  These allies were drawn from universities, schools, government and research institutions, and we discussed opportunities to further collaborate with Shanghai’s excellent education system.

Objective 3: Continue to build provider and people-to-people links

​In Tianjin, I signed the first agreement allowing a Victorian Government school to offer the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) in partnership with a Chinese school. This landmark agreement has authorised Northcote High School to partner with Tianyi Zhong Xue High School to offer the VCE to Chinese students.

In Tianjin, I officially opened and spoke at the VCE-in-China Conference, an event that brings together teachers from Chinese and Victorian schools that deliver the VCE in China to engage in professional development activities.

​In Chengdu, I presented awards to the winner of the Australian Government Panda-Koala Awards. These awards are for the winners of an English language speaking competition, with the winning Chinese teachers receiving a visit to Melbourne as a prize, funded by the Australian Government.

Objective 4: Promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students

​I hosted, along with Minister Mikakos, two significant evening receptions in Beijing and Shanghai. These “Victorian Connection” events were designed to promote Victoria to education agents, illustrious Victorian alumni, prominent members of government and industry and other ‘friends of Victoria’. At these two events, I also made significant announcements aimed to promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students:

  • I announced the Chinese language ‘study.vic’ website, as part of the Victoria-China Digital Connections Package, to make it easier for prospective Chinese international students to learn about and enrol in our school system. 
  • I announced the employment by my Department and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) of a staff member, to be based in Shanghai, who will support the recruitment of Chinese international students in addition to other work to build education connections between Victoria and China.
  • I announced the results of a competition that will support two Chinese students each accompanied by one parent to travel to Victoria on a study tour and later be champions for Victorian education upon their return to China.  The students have already visited Victoria as a result of the competition and their visit was promoted in China via media opportunities.

I conducted interviews with China Radio International and the International Channel Shanghai television network, two of the major media outlets in China that cater to a mixed English/Chinese audience. The bulk of the questions I answered related to international education, including recent Commonwealth visa changes, the benefits of studying in Victoria, the features of Victoria’s education system and why Chinese students should choose to study in Victoria. Both interviews were widely aired.  

I met with the Deputy Head of Mission and the Education Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, where we discussed opportunities to work more closely together to promote Victoria as a destination of choice for Chinese international students. 

Objective 5: Share information to strengthen whole-of-life education outcomes 

​​At all of my appointments with government officials, I discussed Victoria’s commitment to being Australia’s Education State. I shared Victoria’s expertise across a range of educational areas, and discussed with my Chinese colleagues areas where they excel.   These included:

  • maternal and child health, early childhood, primary and secondary education
  • intercultural understanding, language learning, STEM and critical thinking.

​My Department will be pursuing opportunities to collaborate further in these areas.

Next steps / Follow up

  1. Premier’s travel to China in September:
    • support the educational component of the Premier’s upcoming travel to China, including by leveraging relationships built through my travel and following up initiatives such as those listed below.
  2. Further strengthen key relationship with Ministry of Education:
    • Work towards the signing of the new MoU on educational cooperation between the Victorian Department of Education and Training and the Chinese MOE. This agreement will be the fifth agreement in the 30 year history of collaboration, and is a significant support for Chinese language learning in Victoria.
  3. Expand the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program:
    • The Young Leaders to China Program sends Year 9 students from Victoria on a full immersion experience for six weeks in a Chinese school.  In addition to the ongoing delivery of this program in Shanghai and Jiangsu, DET will work with colleagues in Sichuan Province to expand the program there, starting with a pilot.
  4. Promote more people to people and school to school links between China and Victoria:
    • Develop resource to promote Victorian schools and the Schools Connect Portal, with the aim of increasing partnerships between Chinese and Victorian schools. At present over 70 Victorian schools are looking for a sister school in China. The Schools Connect Portal is an online tool that allows schools to search for each other based on country, size, type of school (primary, secondary, P-12, special), language taught and specific areas for collaboration.
  5. Promote Victorian education capabilities, including through export of education products:
    • On the back of the signing of the Northcote High School/Tianyi agreement, investigate the possibility of other Victorian government schools to establishing similar arrangements with Chinese schools.
    • Investigate new products that might be offered into the Chinese market, including different models of education provision, curriculum collaboration and professional learning.
    • Engage a staff member to be based in the Shanghai Victorian Government Business Office to help promote Victoria’s education capabilities in China.
  6. Promote collaboration in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM):
    • Explore options to collaborate with Chinese STEM experts through the Victorian Government Tech Schools initiative.
    • Strengthen engagement with international student alumni and improve the international student experience
    • Implement initiatives to better connect international students to Victoria, before, during and after their stay, and enhance their experience while in Victoria.
  7. Investigate options for further government to government collaboration:
    • Following productive meetings, my Department will look at options for collaboration in education with authorities in Tianjin, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai.