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Image: Shutterstock.com

Image: Shutterstock.com

'Without HECS I wouldn't have attended Uni'

4 July 2019

5 minute read

PHOTO 2019 05 14 11 39 49

Photo: Mathew Johnston

With rich experience in developing education, training and science relationships on the South American continent, Mathew Johnston, the Counsellor (Education and Science) at the Australian Embassy in Brazil, sheds light on his role, the importance of higher education financing and how his ANU experience helped him adapt to a range of situations. 

Q. What are your observations about Australia’s partnerships on the Southern American continent over the past few decades?

I began my role as Education Counsellor in February 2018 and my initial observations about Australia’s partnerships in Brazil is that it is still emerging. Brazilians are the fourth largest group of international students in Australia – almost 27,000 students studied in Australia in 2018 (after China, India and Nepal).  It has only been in the last six years that, aside from being a source of education, Australia is now being widely regarded as a partner in trade, economic policy and social policy.

Our Brazilian partners are looking more towards Australia as a benchmark for policy innovation, in particular regard to education and economic policy.

Q. Your current responsibilities are to build education, training and science relationships, particularly with Brazil and Argentina. Could you shed some light on your experience so far?

So far, I have had a positive experience developing partnerships in Brazil and Argentina to advance international education and science cooperation.  I find partners in Latin America, especially Brazil, to be warm, open, and great people to work with.

My role is diverse and I am lucky that I can set my team’s strategic agenda based on what local partners in Brazil and Argentina want and what is in Australia’s national interest.  We have opened some big policy dialogues with both the Brazilian and Argentine Governments around the reform of technical and vocational education and training systems. Improving training systems in both countries is both a challenge and an urgent need as they look to open up their economies.  It is also an opportunity for Australia to share its expertise and deepen the education relationship.

Research and science collaboration are evolving, given the similarities between Australia, Brazil and Argentina – large southern hemisphere countries, rich in natural resources, agricultural producing nations, diverse climates and environments.  There are, of course, many other similarities too but these are really driving a dramatic increase in research collaboration. We have been heavily involved in a range of areas including water research, strategies for combating domestic violence, agricultural research and innovation.

ANU really helped me develop great flexibility to adapt to a range of situations and to learn quickly.

Q. Addressing higher education financing has significantly grown in prominence over the past few years. How vital is this issue for a developing economy such as Brazil?

In the first week of my posting, I had the pleasure of attending a conference organised by the Brazilian Government at which Professor Bruce Chapman from the ANU College of Business and Economics, along with Professor Lorraine Dearden from the UCL Institute of Education presented about Australia’s approach towards higher education financing.  Ever since, this topic has been a constant theme of my engagement in Brazil. Ranging from engaging with a large grouping of private universities to discussions in government. in addition it was also Brazilian election issue last year. I have also been working closely with Paulo Nascimento a Research Officer at the Brazilian Institute for Applied Economic Research and the Australian National University for an upcoming conference on Income Contingent Loans.

For a large country as Brazil, education would offer young Brazilians social mobility and other opportunities from a well-resourced public higher education system.  For these reasons, I think it is vital for Brazil, particularly at this moment where the new government is seeking to make economic reforms to open economy but still needs to ensure people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are not locked out of higher education because of they cannot afford it.

Honestly, I think without HECS, I would not have attended university and be where I am today.

Q. You graduated from The Australian National University (ANU) in 2006, in what ways can you link your success to your experience at ANU?

I loved my time at ANU.  I was also a policy and politics enthusiast, so Canberra was where I wanted to be.  I loved the ANU Campus and I lived on campus for a few years, where I made several lasting friendships. The education at ANU and the supportive culture really ensured that I thrived. I think what ANU really helped me develop great flexibility to adapt to a range of situations and to learn quickly; even if I didn’t have any prior knowledge. 

Updated:   11 February 2020 / Responsible Officer:  CBE Communications and Outreach / Page Contact:  College Web Team