Travel outcomes reports: The Hon. James Merlino

Travel reports for the Minister for Education.

2019 Travel details

India, Singapore and Indonesia

Minister’s name: James Merlino

Portfolio/s: Deputy Premier; Education

Did the Minister’s spouse accompany the Minister in an official capacity? No

Accompanying ministerial staff: Mr Chris Carpenter, Deputy Chief of Staff

Countries visited: India, Singapore and Indonesia.

Date of travel: 14-21 September 2019

Number of official travel days (include day of departure and day of return): 8

Funding source (list Department/s or Agency): Department of Education and Training


Include combined expenses for Minister, accompanying staff and spouse (if accompanying in an official capacity):

Air fares (including taxes and fees): $25,011

Accommodation (including taxes and fees): $4,154

Other expenses (including travel fees, rail travel, travel allowances, cab charges, private cars, passport costs, meeting rooms): $5,893

Travel cost for Minister and ministerial staff (and spouse or de facto partner if applicable): $35,058

Are the above costs final and complete? No

Purpose of travel

I undertook travel to India, Singapore and Indonesia from 14-21 September 2019, visiting the cities of New Delhi, Singapore and Yogyakarta.

Travel to these countries aligned with the Victorian Government's international engagement priorities, including:Victoria's India Strategy: Our Shared Future, Victoria's Southeast Asia Trade and Investment Strategy, International Education Sector Strategy, and broader global learning and engagement objectives.

In my capacity as Deputy Premier of Victoria and Minister for Education, I set out to:

  • celebrate and promote the inaugral Victorian Young Leaders (VYL) to India and Indonesia pilot programs, and the Women in School Leadership (WISL) pilot program in India
  • together with the Department's Global Learning and Engagement programs, these pilots are helping prepare a generation of active global citizens that will contribute to both Victoria's economic prosperity in a global economy, and our social cohesion in a multicultural society
  • reinforce the importance of Victoria's education, people-to-people, trade and investment relationships with India, Singapore and Indonesia, and support whole-of-Victorian Government international engagement priorities
  • engage with Singapore on policy approaches to teacher education and training and workforce reform to inform the Department's policy development in these areas
  • reinforce Victoria's reputation as the Education State, a high-quality and globally engaged education system and study destination.

The travel program addressed these objectives through the following activities:

  • high level meetings with Indian and Indonesian government officials, including the Governor of Yogyakarta
  • participation in the inaugural VYL India and Indonesia and WISL programs, including engaging with students, teachers and principals through cultural activities, school visits and celebration events
  • participation in an expert roundtable discussion in Singapore focusing on teacher workforce reform, initial teacher education and career pathways
  • school visits in all three countries, including a high-rise school in Singapore, a Victoria-Indonesia sister school and a school in Yoghakarta positively impacted by the Victorian education system-inspired Joyful Learning Movement
  • meetings with overseas Australian and Victorian Goverment representatives, including the Australian High Commissioner to India and the Victorian Commissioners to South and Southeast Asia.

Benefits of travel to the State of Victoria

The travel benefited the State of Victoria through the following key outcomes and activities in each country:


The VYL India and WISL pilot programs were celebrated, promoted and officially launched.

Relationships with key Indian education stakeholders, including school leaders and strategic thought leaders, were built and fostered.

  • I participated in a number of activities as part of the VYL India pilot program, a three-week immersion experience for 40 Year 9 students and eight teachers from Victorian Government schools, and the WISL pilot program, a reciprocal professional development program for six Victorians and six Indian principals, both outlined in Victoria's 10-year India Strategy.
  • I visited Delhi's Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, a place of Sikh worship, where I had the opportunity to learn about the Sikh religion and serve food to patrons in the food hall with the Victorian students and teachers, witnessing first-hand the cultural immersion opportunities that the Victorian students experienced through this program. This visit was also an opportunity to celebrate the people-to-people links between Victoria and India, including through Victoria's significant Sikh community.
  • I attended the Victorian-India Education Celebration, a formal event to celebrate and showcase the VYL India and the WISL pilot programs, thank and congratulate all program participants and partners, and strengthen the growing education ties between Victoria and India as part of the overall Victoria-India strategic relationship.
  • I visited Springdales School, which hosted the Delhi component of the VYL India program, where I had the opportunity to meet the Springdales principal and staff, interact with Victorian students and their Indian student buddies and take a tour of the school including its innovation lab.
  • I participated in a working dinner with the WISL program participants, including hearing from influential female leaders in India's education system and engaging with participating Victorian and Indian principals on leading social change through schools and how to enhance student health and wellbeing.

These activities highlighted the importance of the global learning and engagement experience for all Victorian learners and school leaders, so that they can develop the essential skillset necessary to succeed in a complex, interconnected and competitive world.


I gained valuable insights into how a high performing jurisdiction builds the capability of its teaching workforce.

  • The main purpose of my visit to Singapore was to participate in the Victoria-Singapore Education roundtable, an expert roundtable discussion with representatives from Singapore’s National Institute of Education, Academy of Teachers and Ministry of Education.
  • The roundtable was an opportunity for the Victorian Government to hear directly from subject matter experts, policymakers and teachers about Singapore’s innovative approach to the teaching workforce, and included discussions of initial teacher education, graduate induction, mentoring of undergraduates and in-service teachers, teacher performance assessment and pay, early talent identification, and career pathway streaming.
  • The roundtable will continue to enable the Department to learn from a high performing education system and, where applicable, explore the implementation of some of these learnings in Victoria.
  • I also visited Singapore’s School of the Arts, an example of an innovative, high-rise school in an urbanised environment. This visit provided lessons for Victoria’s own vertical school projects, which will address the needs of Victoria’s growing populations in established areas where land is scarce. The visit was also an opportunity to learn about a specialist school and its alternative curriculum pathway, as School of the Arts is Singapore’s first pre-tertiary specialised arts school.

The VYL Indonesia pilot program was celebrated and promoted, and renewed funding was announced to implement the program in 2020.

Government to government relationships, particularly with the Governor of Yogyakarta and the Yogyakarta Provincial Government, were reinforced.

  • In Yogyakarta, I participated in a number of VYL Indonesia program activities, including a visit to one of the host schools, SMA Budi Utama, where I announced an extra $545,000 in funding for the program to continue for a second year. The funding will give another 40 Year 9 students and accompanying teachers the opportunity to take part in the six-week language and cultural immersion program in 2020, contributing to the development of more young Victorians who have a deep understanding of one of our closest neighbours and a future Top 10 Global Economy.
  • As part of my visit, I met with the Sultan and Governor of Yogyakarta, His Excellency Hamengku Buwono the Tenth, where I reinforced the importance of the Victoria-Yogyakarta relationship as part of the broader Victoria-Indonesia strategic relationship. A key point of discussion was the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Victorian Government and the Yogyakarta Special Region Government, signed in May 2017 to increase cultural, educational and innovative industry exchanges between the two jurisdictions.
  • The VYL Indonesia program is an example of a successful initiative under the MoU’s purview. The importance of this program and broader Victoria-Indonesia education relationship was reinforced at an evening event hosted by the Palace of Yogyakarta in celebration of the VYL Indonesia program, which I attended together with the participating Victorian students and teachers.
  • I visited Olifant K-12 School, one of Warrnambool College’s sister schools, and participated in a Skype call between Olifant and Warrnambool during which students on both sides discussed environmental issues and made a joint pledge to reduce waste and leave a lighter footprint. The visit highlighted the benefits of sister school partnerships and the global learning and engagement opportunities they offer in both jurisdictions.
  • I visited SMPN 2 Sleman school to observe the impact of the ‘Joyful Learning Movement’, a movement inspired by Victorian schools’ engaging approach to teaching and learning and a strong example of how the Education State is recognised as best practice by foreign jurisdictions. SMPN 2 Sleman has been positively impacted by the movement and the influence of Victorian approaches, including group work, colourful classrooms and interactive student-teacher discussions was displayed clearly in the happy faces of the Indonesian students.

Overall, my travel reinforced to our key Indian, Singaporean and Indonesian partners and stakeholders, the value that Victoria places on international educational collaboration.

There were over 20 local media articles generated in India and Indonesia, which positively outlined my participation in the VYL India and Indonesia school activities, my meeting with the Sultan of Yogyakarta and my engagement with the Joyful Learning Movement. This advances the Victorian Government’s broader international engagement objectives.

Next steps

A number of opportunities and follow-up actions have emerged from my travel:

  • There are opportunities to refresh Victoria’s India Strategy in response to India’s forthcoming National Education Policy, and explore avenues to evaluate and expand upon Victoria’s India-focused education initiatives, including the VYL India and WISL programs, as well as the third initiative for which the Department of Education and Training (the Department) has delivery responsibility – the Connecting Schools with Indian Communities program.
  • In particular, the Department is exploring a collaborative partnership with India’s National Progressive Schools Conference in order to provide further opportunities for reciprocal school leadership professional development in both Victorian and Indian schools.
  • The Department will invite some of India’s strategic thought leaders in education to either visit Victoria or reconnect via teleconference to engage with senior Department staff and school leaders and deepen two-way knowledge exchange on issues relevant to the Education State agenda and India’s draft National Education Policy.
  • I intend to reconnect with Indian Government consular officials based in Victoria and Australia to further discuss common challenges and opportunities for Victoria and India in education policy.
  • The department will explore avenues for further collaboration with Singapore, which could involve reconnecting with the participants of the Victoria-Singapore Education Roundtable or additional experts in teacher workforce reform, for the purposes of deeper knowledge exchange with senior Department leaders and school leaders.
  • Following my return, I had the opportunity to reconnect with the Sultan of Yogyakarta during his visit to Victoria in October 2019, where he participated in a ‘Creative Economy Forum’ with a delegation of creative industry professionals. During this visit, the Sultan met with the Premier of Victoria and reconfirmed our shared desire to continue Victoria and Yogyakarta’s special partnership into the future, including through the themes of education, innovation and cultural exchange.
  • Following my visit to SMPN 2 Sleman, one of the schools in Yogyakarta that has benefited from the Victorian-inspired Joyful Learning Movement, I intend to engage with Clayton North Primary School and/or Ringwood North Primary School – the schools that inspired the movement – to congratulate them on the success of the Joyful Learning Movement and discuss the positive influence of Victoria’s teaching and learning approaches in Indonesia.
  • I have written to the hosts thanking them for their participation and support of the activities I undertook during my travel, and to continue ongoing dialogue in these key areas.

More information

The Hon. James Merlino - travel report - India, Singapore and Indonesia, September 2019

2016 Travel details


Minister;s name: James Merlino

Portfolio/s: Deputy Premier, Education

Did the Minister’s spouse accompany the Minister in an official capacity? No

Accompanying ministerial staff: Ilsa Colson, Chief of Staff

Countries visited: China

Date of travel: 3-9 July 2016

Number of official days (including date of departure and return): 7

Funding source: Department of Education and Training (DET)


Airfares (including taxes and fees): $24,345

Accommodation: $2,010

Other expenses (including travel fees, rail travel, travel allowances, cab charges, private cars, passport costs, meeting rooms): $705

Are the above costs final and complete?: Yes

Purpose of Travel

From 3-9 July 2016, I travelled to China accompanied by the Minister for Families and Children, the Hon Jenny Mikakos MP and visited the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Tianjin. The purpose of my travel to China was to:

  • strengthen the bilateral relationship between Victoria and China, in line with the Victorian Government’s new China Strategy and, in particular, lay the foundation for a Sister State Agreement with Sichuan Province prior to the Premier travelling there in September 2016
  • support the strong education relationships Victoria has with China, particularly with the PRC Ministry of Education, at a State/Province level on initiatives like the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program, and the support Victoria receives for Chinese language learning
  • continue to build provider and people-to-people links between Victoria and China, including the many existing and potential sister school partnerships, teacher exchanges and curriculum collaborations (including offshore Victorian Certificate of Education delivery)
  • promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students, supporting the aims of the Government’s International Education Sector Strategy. In particular, this involved highlighting the State’s livability credentials, high quality education system, and safe and diverse community
  • share information to strengthen whole-of-life education outcomes for children in both of our jurisdictions, including:
    • maternal and child health, early childhood, primary and secondary education
    • intercultural understanding, language learning, STEM and critical thinking.

Benefits of travel to the state of Victoria

The meeting and activities undertaken during this trip directly supported the following directions of the Victorian Government’s China Strategy ‘Partnerships for Prosperity’ by:

  • establishing Victoria as Australia’s centre of excellence for Asia insights and capabilities
  • building connections through reciprocal cultural partnerships and by establishing new platforms for people-to-people engagement
  • strengthening government alliances within China’s economic development zones
  • attracting investment, including into the Government’s infrastructure pipeline, to support Victoria’s continued economic growth.

The visit also supported the Victorian Government’s vision for Victoria, the Education State, where we are recognised nationally and internationally for the skills, knowledge, expertise and outlook of our people and as a place where our innovation and pursuit of new knowledge, skills and jobs draws others to live, work and invest.

The visit produced several new agreements and partnerships, trade outcomes, and new initiatives to increase collaboration between our jurisdictions, and identified further opportunities to collaborate in future.

The key elements of the visit were as follows:

Objective 1: Strengthen the bilateral relationship between Victoria and China

In Tianjin, I met with the Vice Mayor to discuss potential education collaboration, broader links between Victoria and Tianjin, and the key relationship between the City of Melbourne and the City of Tianjin – a top-5 city in China with an economy nearly the size of Victoria’s.

In Tianjin, I attended a reception hosted by Melbourne City Council to acknowledge their sister city relationship with Tianjin. The event also involved RMIT, which has a presence in Tianjin, as well as key decision makers, education agents and other friends of Victoria.

I met with one of the largest state-owned enterprises in China, which will shortly announce an opening of their Melbourne office as their Australian headquarters. The name of this company cannot be revealed prior to the announcement.

Objective 2: Support the strong education relationships Victoria has with China

In Beijing, I met with the Chinese Ministry of Education, to discuss a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) and the Chinese Ministry of Education – the fifth such agreement in a close collaboration dating back almost thirty years. The MOU is a critical support for Chinese language learning in Victorian schools and school to school collaboration between Victoria and China.

In Chengdu, I met with the Chengdu Education Bureau, to discuss opportunities to further collaborate in school education, and in particular to announce the expansion of the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program into Sichuan Province – Victoria’s future Sister State.

In Shanghai, I met with a number of key education allies for Victoria, as well as the Australian Consul-General. These allies were drawn from universities, schools, government and research institutions, and we discussed opportunities to further collaborate with Shanghai’s excellent education system.

Objective 3: Continue to build provider and people-to-people links

In Tianjin, I signed the first agreement allowing a Victorian Government school to offer the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) in partnership with a Chinese school. This landmark agreement has authorised Northcote High School to partner with Tianyi Zhong Xue High School to offer the VCE to Chinese students.

In Tianjin, I officially opened and spoke at the VCE-in-China Conference, an event that brings together teachers from Chinese and Victorian schools that deliver the VCE in China to engage in professional development activities.

In Chengdu, I presented awards to the winner of the Australian Government Panda-Koala Awards. These awards are for the winners of an English language speaking competition, with the winning Chinese teachers receiving a visit to Melbourne as a prize, funded by the Australian Government.

Objective 4: Promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students

I hosted, along with Minister Mikakos, two significant evening receptions in Beijing and Shanghai. These “Victorian Connection” events were designed to promote Victoria to education agents, illustrious Victorian alumni, prominent members of government and industry and other ‘friends of Victoria’. At these two events, I also made significant announcements aimed to promote Victoria as a destination for Chinese international students:

  • I announced the Chinese language ‘study.vic’ website, as part of the Victoria-China Digital Connections Package, to make it easier for prospective Chinese international students to learn about and enrol in our school system.
  • I announced the employment by my Department and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) of a staff member, to be based in Shanghai, who will support the recruitment of Chinese international students in addition to other work to build education connections between Victoria and China.
  • I announced the results of a competition that will support two Chinese students each accompanied by one parent to travel to Victoria on a study tour and later be champions for Victorian education upon their return to China. The students have already visited Victoria as a result of the competition and their visit was promoted in China via media opportunities.

I conducted interviews with China Radio International and the International Channel Shanghai television network, two of the major media outlets in China that cater to a mixed English/Chinese audience. The bulk of the questions I answered related to international education, including recent Commonwealth visa changes, the benefits of studying in Victoria, the features of Victoria’s education system and why Chinese students should choose to study in Victoria. Both interviews were widely aired.

I met with the Deputy Head of Mission and the Education Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, where we discussed opportunities to work more closely together to promote Victoria as a destination of choice for Chinese international students.

Objective 5: Share information to strengthen whole-of-life education outcomes

At all of my appointments with government officials, I discussed Victoria’s commitment to being Australia’s Education State. I shared Victoria’s expertise across a range of educational areas, and discussed with my Chinese colleagues areas where they excel. These included:

  • maternal and child health, early childhood, primary and secondary education
  • intercultural understanding, language learning, STEM and critical thinking.

My Department will be pursuing opportunities to collaborate further in these areas.

Next steps / Follow up

  1. Premier’s travel to China in September:
    • support the educational component of the Premier’s upcoming travel to China, including by leveraging relationships built through my travel and following up initiatives such as those listed below.
  2. Further strengthen key relationship with Ministry of Education:
    • Work towards the signing of the new MoU on educational cooperation between the Victorian Department of Education and Training and the Chinese MOE. This agreement will be the fifth agreement in the 30 year history of collaboration, and is a significant support for Chinese language learning in Victoria.
  3. Expand the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program:
    • The Young Leaders to China Program sends Year 9 students from Victoria on a full immersion experience for six weeks in a Chinese school. In addition to the ongoing delivery of this program in Shanghai and Jiangsu, DET will work with colleagues in Sichuan Province to expand the program there, starting with a pilot.
  4. Promote more people to people and school to school links between China and Victoria:
    • Develop resource to promote Victorian schools and the Schools Connect Portal, with the aim of increasing partnerships between Chinese and Victorian schools. At present over 70 Victorian schools are looking for a sister school in China. The Schools Connect Portal is an online tool that allows schools to search for each other based on country, size, type of school (primary, secondary, P-12, special), language taught and specific areas for collaboration.
  5. Promote Victorian education capabilities, including through export of education products:
    • On the back of the signing of the Northcote High School/Tianyi agreement, investigate the possibility of other Victorian government schools to establishing similar arrangements with Chinese schools.
    • Investigate new products that might be offered into the Chinese market, including different models of education provision, curriculum collaboration and professional learning.
    • Engage a staff member to be based in the Shanghai Victorian Government Business Office to help promote Victoria’s education capabilities in China.
  6. Promote collaboration in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM):
    • Explore options to collaborate with Chinese STEM experts through the Victorian Government Tech Schools initiative.
    • Strengthen engagement with international student alumni and improve the international student experience
    • Implement initiatives to better connect international students to Victoria, before, during and after their stay, and enhance their experience while in Victoria.
  7. Investigate options for further government to government collaboration:
    • Following productive meetings, my Department will look at options for collaboration in education with authorities in Tianjin, Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai.

More information

The Hon. James Merlino – travel report – China, July 2016 (PDF, 3MB)