Future Asias in Australia: ‘Foreign Interference’ and International Student Mobility

Dr Avery Poole1

1The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), , Australia

What are the implications of the ‘foreign interference’ debate in Australia on international student mobility from Asia? As the opportunities expand for ‘internationalising’ the university experience and for raising significant fee revenue from international students, so too have concerns in some quarters about ‘foreign interference’ – most often directed at China. This debate was been particularly prominent in 2019, with significant media attention to cyber security breaches, purported threats to academic freedom, student clashes on campus and high-profile research collaborations with Chinese entities with potential military applications. In this context, the government established the University Foreign Interference Taskforce comprising intelligence officials and university executives and published the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the University Sector in November 2019. The Guidelines expect universities to undertake increased due diligence and risk management, and report potential or actual risks to security agencies. What is the impact of all of this on international students, particularly from China and other East Asian states? While universities have a significant financial incentive to resist pressure to reduce student intakes from China – who made up 38.3% of international students in Australian universities in 2018 – many also seek to diversify their international student cohorts, by looking to other potential growth markets such as India, Nepal, Vietnam and Malaysia. This paper explores the ways in which the increased scrutiny of university campuses by security agencies may shape the student cohort and the experiences of students themselves. It highlights the increasing tensions – such as allegations of ‘politically motivated visa delays’ – that are emerging at the nexus of security policy and the internationalisation of higher education.


Dr Avery Poole is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University (ANU). Her research explores Australian engagement with Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in relation to the internationalisation of education; and conceptualisations of democracy in regional governance. She has published articles on these topics in journals including Democratic Theory, Contemporary Southeast Asia and Contemporary Politics. Avery’s latest publication is Democracy, Rights and Rhetoric in Southeast Asia (Palgrave, 2019). She is a co-editor (with Dr Sara Bice and Professor Helen Sullivan) of Public Policy in the ‘Asian Century’: Concepts, Cases and Futures (Palgrave, 2018). Avery completed her PhD and MA at The University of British Columbia in Canada, and her BA(Hons) and BComm at The University of Melbourne. Prior to her academic career, she worked for KPMG in Audit and Corporate Recovery.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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