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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
29/10/2015
Australia's relationship with Mexico

BALY, Ms Anne, Group Manager, International Group, Department of Education and Training

BRANCELLA, Ms Christina, Assistant Director, Americas, Middle East, Africa and APEC Section, International Group, Department of Education and Training

CARLIN, Professor Tyrone, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney

JAGADISH, Professor Chennupati, Vice President, Australian Academy of Science

PRITCHARD, Ms Nancy, Director, International Programs, Australian Academy of Science

RITCHIE, Mr Craig, Branch Manager, International Mobility, International Group, Department of Education and Training

[13:30]

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from the Department of Education and Training, the University of Sydney and the Australian Academy of Science. I remind witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and should be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Would any or all of you care to make an opening statement?

Ms Baly : I have a short opening statement. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you today. I would like to give you a brief explanation of the role of the Department of Education and Training in relation to the terms of reference of this inquiry. As you will have gathered from our submission, the department is responsible for building and maintaining the government-to-government relationships with the governments of overseas countries, in particular with their education and research departments. It does not play a direct role among Commonwealth agencies in relation to student recruitment, promotion and marketing of Australian education or the public diplomacy and trade aspects of international education. The department's core mission is to advance the education, research and training relationship with foreign governments. It does this by working with the national governments of other countries to address systemic barriers to collaboration and by sharing information to enhance the quality and performance of education and research systems to raise awareness of the quality of Australia's education and training system and to provide support for education, research, training and professional mobility.

You may be aware that the department, on behalf the Australian government, is developing Australia's first ever National Strategy for International Education. This strategy has a 10-year outlook and brings together all Australians stakeholders to ensure the ongoing competitiveness of the sector. The strategy is aimed at ensuring that Australia is valued internationally for the quality of our education system and our commitment to building valuable long-term partnerships. The department's submission explains how the issues before this inquiry interconnect with education, training and research interests and it details our leading role in government-to-government relationships with Mexican education and research government departments. I was in Mexico in April this year, and we signed the memorandum of understanding with the secretariat of public education. The MOU formalises our relationship with Mexico and provides for the establishment of a bilateral education committee. We are planning to hold the first committee meeting by the middle of next year.

Earlier, in September, an official from the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico participated in a two-week workshop that we hosted on qualification recognition and frameworks with other Pacific Alliance countries. The department's submission highlights our efforts to collaborate in education in multilateral fora that include Mexico. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement will provide a platform for extending our partnership with Mexico. In APEC we have played a leading role in cross-border education cooperation in recent years, actively encouraging participation in a number of projects that we lead.

The department also supports international student mobility through a range of scholarships, grants and loans programs, including Endeavour scholarships and fellowships as well as mobility grants. We have an aim to encourage more students from Latin America, including Mexico, to have a firsthand experience of study in those countries, and we are actively encouraging institutions to consider Latin America when applying for funding from those grants. To date we have had 392 Australian students studying in Mexico, and to date we have had no scholarship students going to or coming from Mexico, but we are actively promoting applications from Mexico and we have a counsellor based in our embassy in Brazil who has a major role to play in promoting the Endeavour program in Latin America.

In conclusion, the department sees considerable scope to build our education relationship with Mexico to mutual benefit, given the opportunities that will flow from the TPP and from the desire we and Mexico have to diversify and extend international education cooperation. We will focus our efforts on building government-to-government links, but in undertaking our role we will work very closely with other Australian government departments and state and territory agencies and with the education sector as we seek to ensure a coordinated approach to that engagement.

Prof. Carlin : Like my colleagues here, I am very happy on behalf of the University of Sydney to have an opportunity to take your questions today. I will not take much of your time by way of opening remarks but, to the extent that I do, it might be helpful to you if I was to expand by way of providing some additional context to the matters that are referred to in the written submission that you have before you. I think there are two important limbs to that, contextually, and they both touch on missions of universities in Australia. So, although I am speaking on behalf of the University of Sydney, I do not think I am going to say anything that would be out of turn for most universities in Australia.

The first challenge we face at universities is that increasingly the research agendas we are prosecuting are tackling very large, complex problems of substantial societal impact, and almost by definition these days these research agendas are not capable of being prosecuted within a single institution. In many instances that means there will be a lot of international collaboration that is in fact necessary for us to be able to tackle these kinds of big problems. That means that those programs tend to be of longer duration. It also has implications for the cost of the prosecution of these programs. So, one limb of this is that as we internationalise research, which is important to us in terms of quality and impact, we are making longer-term commitments and they cost us more, so we have to pay for those.

The other limb of the context that I want to draw your attention to is an increasingly acute feature of the financial architecture of Australian universities, which is to say that international education through tuition fees is an increasingly material element of the financial structure. A compelling statistic is that in 2016—and this will vary across the sector—the University of Sydney will derive more tuition fee income from international students than from funding from the Commonwealth. So, that is quite an important tipping point for us, and there will be other institutions, particularly in the Group of Eight, who are at that point or who have already crossed beyond it.

The reason I draw that to your attention is that we are quite acutely concentrated in the jurisdictions from which we draw our students. In my university's case, we have a very acute concentration to China, so there is a lot of sense in us looking at diversification, and, in large part, that is what motivated us to want to come and speak with you today.

The good news with Mexico is we are not coming off a zero base. We have a lot of faith in the potential of Mexico not only as a jurisdiction in which there are meaningful research opportunities but also in terms of the flow of students. An example of that is at the University of Sydney we have had—just as a proxy for involvement in Mexico—more than 200 papers published in the last few years featuring co-authors in Mexico and co-authors at the University of Sydney. We have a particularly strong relationship between our Plant Breeding Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. The research there, typically, is looking at things like nutrient uptake efficiency but also drought and disease tolerance in strains of cereal crops in particular, and there is some really important research going on in that respect.

By contrast, in terms of student flows, whereas the University of Sydney has about 10,000 international students we have fewer than 50 in various guises from Mexico. So our call to action and the things that I would love to talk to anyone about really comprise three things. First, Mexico, as you know, has the Mexican National Commission for Science and Technology—CONACYT—which provides generous scholarship support. Our understanding is that they have got some 6,300 or so funded students throughout the world at the moment—half of those are PhD scholarships and the rest are masters. I draw that to your attention because Australia's share of that is about 2½ per cent. We have about 150 of those. The US has about 1,500; the UK is not dissimilar. The Netherlands has 260 and Canada has 311. We have a huge opportunity there, and that is something that government can facilitate through the negotiation of an arrangement with CONACYT. That will help us enormously.

Second, very quickly, is New Colombo scholarships. These are concentrated in Asia, as you know, and they have been enormously successful. And in terms of getting more of our students out as ambassadors, and forging those relationships, we believe that the extension of a program like that into the Latin American zone could be very beneficial. The third thing is every time I go near a DFAT official I am asking for us to be mindful of recognition of qualifications as part of conversations going to trade. We are getting some progress in that in a raft of jurisdictions, particularly in Asia with free trade negotiations. It is a theme that we think, if that could be consistently part of the conversation, would be of great assistance. Thank you very much.

Prof. Jagadish : The Australian Academy of Science welcomes the opportunity to provide comment to this committee on Australia's relationship with Mexico. Scientific research is not specifically highlighted in the inquiry's terms of reference, but it is of fundamental importance, as my colleagues have mentioned, both in its own right and in underpinning economic and social developments in countries around the world. Today, I will restrict my comments to matters related to science and research. Science is no longer the domain of the scientist. It permeates everything that we do and everything governments do globally. Links in science and technology are being fostered by the recognition of their importance by governments, research institutes and universities as well as individual scientists.

Australia has a relatively high research output. We produce more than three per cent of the world's scientific publications even though we are just 0.3 per cent to the world's population. The nature of the global science and innovation is changing in the 21st century. Increasingly, efforts are being undertaken collaboratively between multiple international researchers and institutions, as my colleague has just pointed out. Australia competes internationally for ongoing ready access to the 97 per cent of knowledge that occurs overseas, and this includes Mexico.

Mexico is the 15th largest economy in the world and is expected to be the fifth largest economy by 2050. Mexico has a population of 120 million people. The Mexican government is aiming to enhance investments in science and technology, particularly in terms of engaging with the global science. To date, Mexico's engagement mainly has been with the North American countries and Europe. But recently they have identified that Asia-Pacific has enormous amounts of opportunities, which is a great opportunity for us to engage with Mexico so that their interest to engage with Asia-Pacific could be an advantage for Australia.

Mexico has an advanced manufacturing sector, and a modern and dynamic health and biotechnology industry. In Australia, our strengths are in health sciences, medical research, mining, water management, astronomy, the environment and other research areas. We have had some substantial economic successes underpinned by science and science diplomacy plays an important role in addressing problems of a global nature—for example, energy security, the preservation of biodiversity, sufficiency of food and a range of global issues, or even water management and providing clean drinking water for the global population. We have common interests between Australia and Mexico.

Mexico and other nations in Latin America, such as Brazil, have traditionally focused, as I mentioned to you, on the other countries, but it is time for us to engage with them. Mexico and Australia are already partners in G20, APEC, OECD and MIKTA. We should make use of this opportunity to be partners and to engage with Mexico, because we are already partners in these major institutions. Scientific organisations and learned academies play an important role in facilitating science diplomacy and coordinating the world's growing number of scientists and the associated growth in data, information and literature. Data-sharing could be very valuable for both countries. Many countries, globally, are identifying and recognising it is important for the global good to be able to share the information; thereby, collectively, we can address these big problems which the global community is facing.

The Australian Academy of Science, since its formation in the 1950s, has been Australia's leading advocate for the internationalisation of science, both in the pursuit of scientific research and in the use of that research for the benefit of the nation. I would like to bring to the attention of this committee that the Australian Academy of Science has produced two position papers on the topic of international science: Australian science in a changing world: innovation requires global engagement and Internationalisation of Australian science.

In 2015, the Australian Academy of Science and the Mexican Academy of Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding to foster mutually beneficial scientific exchanges, workshops and other joint activities. International visits and exchanges between Australia and Mexico could play a vital role in forming connections between researchers. Bilateral collaborations in areas of mutual interest have the potential to deliver considerable benefit to Australia and Mexico. Beyond the financial opportunities, international research links provide opportunities for forming diplomatic links beyond the usual channels. The Australian and Mexican academies of science are exploring funding opportunities to undertake bilateral activities. The academy hopes to play a role in building Australia's links with Mexico through this MoU and promote international collaboration in science and technology. I hope that this inquiry will examine the merits of enhancing our strategic engagement with the Mexican research and scientific community. We want to thank you for the opportunity to present.

CHAIR: Thank you. Ms Baly, what are the barriers to the establishment of jointly accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs? We had some evidence this morning that Mexico does not have a recognisable year-12 system like we do, so there were some problems there. Are you aware of any of these issues?

Ms Baly : I am not sure that I am in a position to comment on the Mexican system.

CHAIR: Forget the Mexican system; what are the barriers to the establishment of jointly accredited undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs?

Ms Baly : As far as the government-to-government relationship is concerned, I am not aware that there are any barriers.

CHAIR: Can you perhaps review the evidence from this morning?

Ms Baly : I can review the evidence from this morning. Typically, our work involves looking at qualification systems and making sure that that is not an impediment to the recognition of qualifications both ways. I am not aware of any other. I do not know if my colleagues have anything to add to that, but I will review the evidence from this morning.

CHAIR: Professor Carlin, you mentioned you only had 50 students from Mexico. Is that the same as you have for Venezuela or Chile or South America in total, or is that unusual?

Prof. Carlin : Given the scale of the Mexican economy and the existence of funding, it is actually a lot lower than we think it could be. A good contrast is with Brazil. You might be aware of the Science Without Borders initiative that the Brazilian government conducted. That saw hundreds and hundreds of students coming to Australia from Brazil. Unfortunately, the funding for that program is winding up. It is one of the reasons I drew your attention to the CONACYT funding and the importance of us negotiating an agreement with that. So I think there really is a big opportunity there.

CHAIR: Professor, you made a point there which we probably have not heard as much of. Is there an opportunity for Australia and Mexico to cooperate and collaborate with a view to our getting into the Mexican market and the greater South American market and even, as was said earlier, in some instances into the American market in a more penetrating way, and is there an opportunity for them to come into the Asian market by a relationship with Australia? Could you just flesh that out a bit, because I had not heard that until you mentioned it.

Prof. Jagadish : Absolutely. There are many opportunities once you have the links with Mexico, because they are very much linked with Latin America. That can open opportunities for us to be able to engage with them. Again, for Mexican scientists and the research community and even for industries, if they have links here and we have strong links with countries like China and Korea, that can open up the doors for them also. It is really going to be very mutually beneficial activity, and we would very much welcome the engagement with the research and scientific community, because they can open up a lot of doors for us, because these are the people who also get involved in the policymaking roles, and that can help in strengthening relations between our countries.

Senator BACK: Ms Baly, can I just go to the MOU that you signed in Mexico in April with the Secretariat of Public Education. This replaces an earlier MOU, doesn't it?

Ms Baly : That is right.

Senator BACK: What was achieved as a result of the last one, and what do you see as being the benefits to both countries of the MOU that you signed three or four months ago?

Ms Baly : The MOU that was signed provides for a continuation and an increase in cooperation in the field of education and training. It is a fairly broad MOU, like most of the MOUs we sign with foreign ministries. This one provides for regular consultation between the two countries. It involves the setting up of a joint committee and facilitating people-to-people and institution-to-institution links and also a policy in information.

In terms of what was achieved under the last MOU, I am not sure that I am in a strong position to answer that, except to say that it was not one of our most active MOUs and there is a much stronger commitment on both sides, I think, to have a more regular exchange of information and a more regular dialogue than was the case under the previous MOU. My colleague has been around in this area longer than I have.

Ms Brancella : That would be correct, yes.

Senator BACK: I am not sure how it interacts—Professor Carlin, you may know—but I think earlier in the year I learnt that Universities Australia had also signed a memorandum of understanding with the equivalent organisation in Mexico. Does the MOU that you are speaking about interact in any way at all with the Universities Australia program, or are they separate? I know it is probably an unfair question, because we do not have the chief executive of Universities Australia, Ms Robinson, here, but I am just wondering: has this been in some way a concerted effort, or are they working in different spaces?

Ms Baly : They are separate MOUs, but we work very closely with Universities Australia. I do not have a copy of the Universities Australia one here, but I think it is fair to say that we would be very careful, when we are signing MOUs, that we would not be overlapping or contradicting the work that will be done by Universities Australia under that MOU. It is probably also worth noting that the Academy of Science signed an MOU with the scientific agency in Mexico in April as well.

Senator BACK: I was going to get onto that in a couple of moments, so thank you for that lead-in. I want to go to this issue of the New Colombo Plan and possible extension beyond Asia, particularly in the direction of Mexico. Is there equivalence in the standard of programs at relevant universities so that a student could go from Sydney, Curtin, UWA, Melbourne or Brisbane to study for a semester or a year? Are there any academic impediments, or have they been sorted out in the context of Mexico?

Prof. Carlin : Mexico has a number of fantastic institutions. Typically we find that language concerns are at issue. It is also true, as you know, that there are various states within Mexico where there are travel advisory warnings. We tend as an institution to pay particular heed to those because of duty-of-care reasons. For that reason we have concentrated a lot of exchange relationships into the Mexico City region even though there are quite viable partners from an academic perspective that are outside that. There are partners—Tec de Monterrey, as we call it, is one of them—that have classes in English and Spanish. I think that, from an academic perspective, the impediments really are not there.

You might know that part of New Colombo goes beyond the pure academic experience and into the domain of things such as internships, mentorships and things of that nature. We would probably have to do a bit of work in that regard, but certainly from the pure academic standpoint we are pretty confident that we could ramp things up.

Senator BACK: But a student coming to the dean of one of your faculties and saying, 'I want to go study in Mexico City at one of the equivalent leading universities, and this is what I am going to be doing for one semester' could negotiate academic credit back in Australia for successful completion of those courses.

Prof. Carlin : That is right. We have exchange agreements already in place for three institutions at the University of Sydney, and that is the precise point of those agreements. It is so academic credit can be facilitated.

Ms Baly : To add to that: it is the case that the New Colombo Plan does not extend to Mexico, but there are other government funded mobility programs that we have had in the department of education for some time that do provide support for Australian students to go to other countries, including Mexico, for just that sort of experience. We have had 392 students since 2008 who have gone to Mexico under those mobility programs.

Senator BACK: Has any survey work ever been done of any or all of those 392 to find out whether or not their experience of that mobility to Mexico has impacted on their careers or the direction in which they have proceeded? Four hundred people is quite a good survey pool, isn't it?

Ms Baly : I do not believe there has been any specific work done on those students who have gone to Mexico, but as part of our higher education student surveys we will be starting to collect information on students who have had an international experience as part of their degree. I am not quite sure when that will start, but that is quite a deliberate effort to try to get an understanding of the experience of those students who have had an international exchange, semester abroad, internship or something overseas and what that impact has been on their further study and their careers.

Senator BACK: I have always thought it was one of the opportunities lost in the original Colombo Plan that we never tracked adequately where graduates ended up. I know anecdotally from my own personal experience that, with a lot of people who have assisted in businesses that I have been involved in particularly in Asia and the Philippines, when you track back and ask them why they are being so helpful, it is because they studied in one of the Australian universities.

You mentioned the Pacific Alliance summit in July and five occupations in the transport logistics sector for which there has been benchmarking of qualifications and standards. What are the five?

Ms Baly : I will take that on notice. I am not sure that that work has actually been done. I think that is work that is planned to be done.

Senator BACK: I see. It will improve the recognition. It goes to the next question I want to get to. This is in the vocational education sector. It seems that there is evidence that has come before the committee that there is significant scope for Australian institutions to get involved in improving the skills development area in Mexico in the VET sector. Is this an area in which any of you have any involvement?

Ms Baly : The department has had some involvement in that area—not directly our area. I think it is fair to say that we do see scope for further engagement on the vocational education and training area and that there are likely to be good opportunities for providers in Mexico. The decision to go forward and work on providing education services in Mexico would be one for individual vocational education providers. It is not something we have a particular view about from a government perspective. We try to make sure that there are no barriers and try to set up the platform on which those providers will be able to have a successful relationship, but the business decision about whether to take that step is one that, like it is for universities, is really one for individual providers.

Senator BACK: A comment was made here this morning that participants and providers in our VET sector in particular have the opportunity to be and need to be far more entrepreneurial and to understand where their opportunities might lie. Maybe there is a role federally to help them in that.

Professor Carlin, you made mention of research agendas and the fact that they are now becoming multifaceted with bigger issues, longer periods of time and more dollars. Could you assist the committee by giving us a couple of examples of the types of complex research you are talking about?

Prof. Carlin : I can talk to a couple that are particularly front of mind for me. We have the Charles Perkins Centre, which is focused on non-communicative diseases: diabetes, cardiovascular and so on. In short, you look at societies around the world and see rates of these diseases are exploding, and the causes are extremely complex. That is one example. Nanoscience and technology is another example. We have invested in the infrastructure. We have researchers working on quantum processors and things of this nature, but they typically do this in nodes where they will be part of an agenda and will attack part of a problem because we have a comparative advantage in the prosecution of that element of it. It is the same in the Plant Breeding Institute example that I gave you before. It just seems to be the way things are going with these high-impact, complex problems. Often no one institution can be the place where the necessary expertise to resolve those problems resides.

Senator BACK: In terms of bringing the expertise together in different institutions overseas, is it almost the concept of a cooperative research centre that is needed—to have a coordinating group to identify the need and identify those with the expertise to contribute? You seem to present an almost insurmountable challenge. You made it in the context of where Australia and Mexico can collaborate. I am just wondering how Australia and Mexico can collaborate in the context of what you are saying.

Prof. Carlin : I will give you a really practical example of that. I referred you to the Plant Breeding Institute and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Most of their researchers were trained at the University of Sydney. That is the connection back to CONACYT, who are funding doctoral students. In effect, if we can train the next generation of researchers, we have already got the people-to-people links that exist. It is the reason, incidentally, that I connected New Colombo to CONACYT. In looking for an in to get a deal done where we can start to get meaningful flows of students, it is just another conversation piece. It is another element in that equation.

I think the practical thing is that, if we could get more good-quality doctoral candidates, for example, coming to our institutions, forging links with our researchers, working with us and going back to their home institutions, that is a very powerful way of achieving the kind of thing that you are talking about, and it is already in evidence.

CHAIR: Our papers here say UNESCO reports 27,000 Mexican tertiary students studied overseas in 2012, Australia was the eighth-most-popular destination for Mexican students and only two per cent of Mexico is international or tertiary students. Coincidentally, you are getting a bit over two per cent at the University of Sydney. How do we improve that? How do we have a program that gets a better share of those international students and, most importantly, makes sure the intellectual rigour is there and it is not just rich people sending their kids overseas to study? How do we get a share of that?

Prof. Carlin : Part of the issue is presence. It is as simple as that. It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue because, when universities and other agencies are looking at where they deploy their resources with a view to presence, the jurisdictions that are already the winners are often the places that take the lion's share of the resource.

So until recently, the University of Sydney, to be really frank about it, has had essentially zero presence in the Mexican market. We have remedied that with a resource who travels more frequently and who has an agenda of being on the ground. But, in the absence of that, we are going to come off a very low base. It is relationships with funding agencies, cross-institutional arrangements of the sort I was talking to Senator Back about a moment ago and that market presence. People have got to have a reason to believe that there will be a return for doing this. That is why I think a lot of this boils down to how we can broker some of those high-level agreements with the funding agencies. The Bank of Mexico has got loan arrangements for students as well. I think these will be an important catalyst to motivating people to actually want to put boots on the ground. Once we start doing that, we will see the results because we are coming off a very low base. There is low awareness of us and, let's face it, the US looms large right across the border but, with a 70-cent dollar, that is not a bad starting point for the conversation.

CHAIR: Do we know where the majority of those 27,000 students studying outside of America are going after America?

Prof. Carlin : You would have to think that Spain would be a big recipient of them given the language, Canada as well.

Prof. Jagadish : They are going to Canada and the UK also.

CHAIR: So we have competition obviously, mature competition.

Prof. Carlin : Yes.

Senator BACK: Prof. Jagadish, if you can answer that question that was about to posed—that is, the MoU that you signed earlier this year with your colleagues at the Mexican Academy of Science. You have mentioned fostering mutually beneficial scientific exchanges, workshops and other joint activities. Can you perhaps specify for us two or three areas that will be priority areas in terms of executing that MoU?

Prof. Jagadish : The marine environment is one of the important areas for Mexico as well as for us because of the fact we both have large amounts of sea borders. There is a lot of interest from both sides to engage and learn from each other. At the moment it is the case that we are resource limited but there is a desire to work together. If you can find the resources then we should be able to really bring the communities together as Prof. Carlin mentioned. Once the communities come together, things will happen. The word will spread and people will become aware of what Australia has to offer and then we will learn about what Mexico can offer. In the process, we will start exchanging students and then having joint funding programs or people can apply for funding in both countries and that could lead to a lot of good things later. That is why really engaging with each other is a very important thing.

Senator BACK: And what are the catalysts that are going to make that happen or, to put it differently, what are the impediments that will prevent it happening?

Prof. Jagadish : Earlier we used to have an international science linkages program. The Department of Industry and the Department of Education and Training used to manage these programs—the department's names have changed over time. It used to help us to bring the communities together, to have a workshop on a particular specified topic and identify what are the strengths in Mexico and what are the strengths in Australia and where are the common opportunities where we have a complementary expertise. We could then identify which projects would be good to work on and then go and look for resources. Sometimes we have resources in our own countries but you can identify a problem which is of common interest. With small investments, you can really enable bigger things to happen. That is the point: the academy enables those sorts of things.

For example, we have been working with China for the last 30 years or so. The relationship between China and Australia is phenomenal. In fact, if you go to the universities, some of the deputy vice-chancellors are of Chinese origin. They came here, learned of the linkages, did their PhDs in science and then that led to huge amount of cooperation and collaboration, joint funding programs and other things. They want to work with each other and that really enables that.

Senator BACK: Do you think enough is known now about collaboration? I was a guest of a geological survey of Mexico earlier in the year and they showed me these magnificent geological maps of the entire landmass of Mexico at 1:250,000 and then the metalliferous states at 1:50,000, which apparently is useful for geologists. They turned them in and said that all of the software that they used to develop these maps came from Geoscience Australia and the CSIRO—you can imagine how my pride knew no bounds as a result. That led one of the people in the room to say that he was about to start a PhD through the Western Australian School of Mines, Curtin University, in mining and metallurgy. It just occurred to me, how little do most of actually know about what might already be going on and is there any value in becoming some sort of a focal point for increasing the knowledge of what is happening now? I suppose an inquiry like this partially does that but it seems that people have an assumption that there is no activity at all, whereas we are learning already. You have mentioned the number of students who have studied plant breeding in Sydney. That is a prime example of what I am saying. How can we do that better?

Prof. Jagadish : The Chief Scientist office has done comparative studies in relationship with various countries and we are engaged. It has identified various countries and how much we are engaging with them but certainly the scientific techniques which are used in Australia and Mexico are the same. We sometimes say we speak the same language, the language of science. So you have the language barrier for Spanish and English and other things but science is the same. That is why whatever has been developed in Mexico, the methodology could be used here and whatever methodology we have developed here could be applied there also. That is why it is a universal language and that really enables communities to come together and to work together to solve problems which are of a bigger nature and which we cannot do on our own. And because there are complex and people have to come from different directions and from a different base looking at solving the problem and that can lead to solving those problems. That is why additional resources, additional intellectual input and different ways of approaching the problem could lead to solutions to those problems.

Senator BACK: I have one more question in the agriculture space but it does remind me, Professor Carlin, that the other day I met with Cooperative Bulk Handling, our bulk handler in Western Australia. They told me that the biggest import of Western Australian oats is Mexico, of which I had not knowledge. We have had in this inquiry emphasis on water management as being a key infrastructure challenge in Mexico. Are any of you able to comment on if, how and where Australian expertise might be able to contribute to that challenge which the Mexican community has?

Prof. Carlin : Briefly, we have referred to that particular challenge in the University of Sydney's submission. It is an area of collaboration at the moment. For pretty obvious reasons, we share similar problems but I think there is a lot more work to do in that area.

Senator BACK: You are right, it was in there, but the only other point I want to go back to is the question of contributions. You have made mention in your submission about the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership with a donation of $20 million from John Grill, who was chief executive of Worley Parsons. The other question I want to ask is: there is an example of someone who is actively engaged in Latin America and increasingly in Mexico, so are there other opportunities for larger Australian based and multinationals to follow suit with a similar type of activity which has happened with the John Grill centre and would that be of some value in terms of encouraging particularly postgraduate studies between Australia and Mexico?

Prof. Carlin : In short, I think the answer is yes. As you know, that endowment is a relatively recent endowment. The work of the centre is just getting up to speed. You are right; Mr Grill has spent a lot of time in that region. The work of the centre is very international and clearly it encompasses—to be frank about it—all the focus on large resources projects. As you know, that is a big part of the equation in that region.

Senator BACK: Thank you.

CHAIR: Before you go, I have found this inquiry very interesting and informative. I suppose it identified my lack of knowledge and awareness of Mexico—how big it is, the economy and those sorts of things. Is that reciprocated in Mexico? Have they no idea where we are or what we do? And how much of a challenge is that?

Prof. Carlin : I do not want to dominate but, as I said before, awareness, awareness and awareness are key issues. When you have the United States right on your border, for us getting awareness—goodwill is not an issue. Awareness of the opportunity is something we have to keep working at.

Prof. Jagadish : At a time when they are looking towards North America and Europe, it is very difficult to draw their attention to us, but now they are thinking of Asia-Pacific, there is a great opportunity. We should really make use of that one for our advantage.

Ms Baly : I was going to go back to the comment Professor Carlin made earlier about presence. There are certainly opportunities for us to enhance our presence in Mexico and to raise awareness of the opportunities in Australia in Mexico. That is exactly what we are trying to do through our education engagement, to build that level of awareness. I agree with you that more could be done.

CHAIR: Excellent. Thank you very much for your submissions and for your appearance today.