China's Belt and Road Initiative - Education

 (Information current as at 27 November 2017)
The Belt and Road (B&R) initiative (short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road) is a strategic foreign policy and economic strategy which was announced in September 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The initiative aims to strengthen connectivity and economic collaboration between China and countries in Asia, Europe and Africa, and has since become a major focus for China’s economic development.China.jpg
Image source: China Daily
The B&R is made up of a land based route (the belt) and a sea based route (the road), linking China to Europe via countries across Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. Upon completion, the two routes are estimated to cover around two thirds of the world’s population.
As of late 2017, China has signed 69 cooperation agreements under the B&R initiative for projects including the building of roads, railways, ports and maritime routes. The B&R initiative has been recognized by international organizations such as the United Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. A detailed briefing on the B&R has been prepared by the Australian Parliament.
What does B&R mean for education and people to people exchange in China?
Although the B&R mainly targets economic and infrastructure related projects, education and people-to-people exchanges are also high on the B&R agenda.
In July 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MoE) published a development plan [Document in Chinese] on building education cooperation under the B&R. The plan encourages student exchanges, joint research, credit recognition, sister schools and Confucius Institutes and Classrooms. Chinese vocational education institutions are also encouraged to collaborate with industries to deliver training into B&R partner countries to facilitate large infrastructure projects.
By the end of 2016, Chinese universities had established four MoE approved joint venture institutes and 98 education projects in 14 countries, most of which are B&R countries. China has also established 134 Confucius Institutes and 130 Classrooms in 51 countries along the B&R and signed credit and qualifications recognition arrangements with 24 B&R countries. Around 60 per cent of Chinese Government Scholarships in 2016 were awarded to students from B&R countries.
While not all of these collaborative projects and agreements have been established since the announcement of the B&R initiative in 2013, an increased amount of focus and funding has been directed towards these countries, and it is expected to continue.
The MoE is also encouraging key provinces to actively engage with the B&R initiative. To date B&R education agreements have been signed by the MoE with 13 provinces (Gansu, Ningxia, Fujian, Guizhou, Yunnan, Hainan, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shaanxi and Qinghai) and one city (Qingdao), covering almost all participating regions in the B&R initiative. In 2015, Xi’an Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province established the “University Alliance of the Silk Road” to serve as a platform for higher education cooperation among the B&R countries, promoting educational exchanges and collaborations. The alliance’s members includes 135 universities from 36 countries and regions,  covering universities from B&R countries as well as some Australian universities, such as University of New South Wales, University of Newcastle and the University of Queensland.
While projects badged as B&R initiative projects are highlighted as facilitating and supporting international education collaboration, countries and regions that have not signed a B&R agreement with China are not excluded from participating.
Vocational and professional education development and cooperation is a special focus of B&R education initiatives. In June 2017, the Belt and Road Alliance for Industry and Education Collaboration was established in Ningbo City. The alliance is led by the Chinese Education Association for International Exchanges (CEAIE), Ningbo Education Bureau and Ningbo Polytechnic to provide personnel training support for B&R projects. The alliance is made up of 76 vocational institutions and 13 leading enterprises across China.
It is likely that Chinese education providers will increase participation in B&R projects, thus shifting the focus of their international cooperation to developing the skills required to deliver B&R projects. This may create opportunities for Australian education providers to support skills development for Chinese skilled professionals working on B&R projects as well as cooperating to deliver skills training in countries participating in B&R.
Western Australian universities cooperating with universities in Shanghai to deliver specialised English language training to professionals working on B&R electric power infrastructure projects is one recent example of how Australia can use its skills training expertise to contribute to and benefit from the B&R initiative.
For further enquiries, please contact the Education and Research Section of the Australian Embassy in Beijing.