Universities Australia Conference: Tribal Breakfast Briefing Wrap-up

Last updated: 09/07/2018

Australia and China in the time of President Trump was the topic of Wednesday's Tribal Breakfast Briefing discussion at the Universities Australia Conference, led by Airport Economist Tim Harcourt and including senior leaders from Australian Universities.

Tim located his presentation in the context of global economics, referencing Abenomics and Brexit among other recent trade and geopolitical shifts. He made the point that while President Trump appeared to be ripping up America's trade deals, this represented his view that they were bad business for the US and that he was interested in doing a better deal for America, including more emphasis on bi-lateral rather than multi-lateral arrangements.

Discussion highlighted the tension for Australia between China as important trade partner and the US as important trade and political ally. What could the impact of a trade war between China and the US and President Trump's anti-immigration and anti-globalisation policies be on Australia, in particular on a global business like education?

International research and collaboration between universities will be adversely affected as will student, academic and researcher exchanges and travel with the U.S for any of the nationalities impacted by President Trump’s policies.

For Australia this could negatively impact travel and exchange programs for up to 100,000 Australian’s holding dual national passports from 8 of the affected majority Muslim countries and Mexico. It is not all negative for Australia though, because President Trumps policy is likely to increase Australia’s appeal for students, academics and researchers.

While politics has been turned upside down in the US, protectionist and nationalist sentiments are also on the rise in many other parts of the world including Australia, Philippines, and everywhere from Peru to Indonesia. In the UK this has sprung largely from an anti-globalisation and anti-immigration platform.

Tim made the case for immigration, cultural diversity and open trade, citing examples of a century and a half of immigrant Australians including Frank Lowy and many like him who have brought human and entrepreneurial capital to Australia. Records clearly show the relationship between periods of open trade and reduced global poverty - extreme poverty in East Asian APEC economies fell from approximately 36 per cent in 1985 to 20 per cent in 1995, coinciding with the opening up of those economies with each other and with the rest of the world.

Deakin Vice Chancellor Professor Jane Den Hollander provided the response to Tim's presentation as a lead in to general discussion, and Tribal Group’s Higher Education MD, Jon Baldwin reflected on the missed opportunity for UK universities of the Brexit debate:

“Brexit got me thinking about the important and influential role that Universities should play in public policy”.

In Australia, universities must take up the challenge of leading community discussion about the importance of free trade and maintaining and open and tolerant society.