A new survey shows Australian education and tourism have lost favour over the past three years amongst regional opinion makers - although they still view the country as their third choice as the best partner to deal with rising US-China tensions.
"Australia’s rank as the preferred country for tertiary education has fallen from third choice behind the US and Europe in 2019 to fifth choice in this year’s survey.”
However, the findings about Australia are overshadowed by many other issues in the latest wide-ranging survey of regional opinion by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The findings provide an intriguing insight into the country’s soft power across the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members during a period when the Morrison government, and its predecessors, have been elevating this region as a strategic and economic partner.
The annual State of Southeast Asia survey shows opinion remains quite divided over US-China tensions. However, the mood towards the US has improved with the new president while suspicion towards China has grown.
If forced to choose between the two superpowers, 61.5 per cent of respondents would choose the US (up from 53.6 per cent last year). Only 38.5 per cent would choose China (down from 46.4 per cent last year). But there was a more significant swing towards the US at the country level, with a majority of people in only three countries choosing China compared with seven countries last year.
The survey also shows Australia’s rank as the preferred country for tertiary education has fallen from third choice behind the US and Europe in 2019 to fifth choice in this year’s survey, now also behind Japan and Britain (broken out of Europe post-Brexit).
In another blow for the education export sector, the proportion of people choosing Australia has fallen from 21.2 per cent to 12.3 per cent. However, the survey does not explain whether the decline last year was due to Australia’s more severe pandemic shutdowns than some competing education exporters, such as Britain.