Australia seeks reputation boost for international HE

Through a series of inquiries, reviews and amendments in the education and immigration systems, Australia is moving to salvage its standing in the ever-competitive international education sector to attract more and more students. This is according to the country’s minister for education, Jason Clare, speaking at the three-day 2023 Australian International Education Conference (AIEC) on 11 October.

“It is important that we get this right. This is about protecting the integrity of international education and protecting your good name, and our reputation worldwide,” Clare said at the AIEC held in Adelaide.

“International education is not just about students coming here. It’s also about taking Australian education to the world,” said the minister.

Survey finds Australia joint top choice

On the second day of the conference, the minister’s message was backed up by the findings of the Emerging Futures 4 survey conducted by global education specialists IDP Connect in August 2023, which were shared with attendees.

The survey collates the views of more than 10,000 prospective applied and current international students, around half of whom are based in India or China and most of the rest are in Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Vietnam.

It noted that for the first time in two years Australia has joined Canada as a first-choice study destination, with a 2% increase since the previous Emerging Futures survey conducted in March 2023, whilst Canada has lost 2% since the previous survey.

Answering the question of which destination is our first choice, Australia and Canada had 25% each of respondents followed by the UK (22%) and US (19%), with New Zealand (3%) and Ireland (2%) trailing way behind.

The research also shows that Australia remains the top choice for students from Nepal, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Current students studying in Australia reported a satisfaction rate of 7.5 out of 10; higher than the UK and Canada, and just behind the US with an average of 7.8.

The conference addressed the theme of “International education: visionary and transformative”. Its aim was to explore how the international education sector can continue to transform people, places and ideas to create a more inclusive and connected world.

The organisers estimated that some 1,700 delegates had gathered for the conference to discuss how the sector can continue to thrive amid rapid changes in an ever-evolving social, political and cultural landscape.

Among other things, Australia’s tough COVID-19 quarantine measures from 2019 to 2021 had severely affected the education sector, forcing a bulk of international students to leave for other destinations during the pandemic. In recent years, reports of immigration agents exploiting Australia's visa regime to bring in workers instead of genuine students have also caused concerns.

In his remarks the education minister said that Australia is doubling the number of University Study Hubs across the country and expressions of interest for some of these opened about two weeks ago.

“And as you might have seen in the media last week, we are looking at ways to address the serious issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment on our campuses, including potentially establishing a standalone, independent National Student Ombudsman,” he added.

Most international students have returned

Official figures suggest that, with the reopening of borders last year, the majority of the international students have returned to Australia and the net value of the industry is back to the pre-pandemic value of an estimated AU$ 40 billion.

“In July we ended the unlimited working hours of international students. Limiting them to 24 hours a week. That was the first step in reducing the lure of getting a student visa as a backdoor just to work here”, Clare said, adding that the government has also closed the ‘concurrent certificate of enrolment’ loophole that has allowed agents and providers to shift international students who have been here for less than six months from one course to another.

“From genuine study to no study at all. Just a backdoor way to work here. Something you asked us to do,” he said.

As for the new reforms, Australia has also increased the amount of savings that international students now will need in order to get a student visa. From October onwards a student will need to show evidence of AU$24,505 (US$15,421) in savings.

Australia is particularly looking at India and Indonesia for growth in the domestic education sector through various collaborations and international students studying at Australian universities.

Two new branch campuses in India

As part of this push, two Australian universities, Deakin University and the University of Wollongong, would begin new campuses in India while the Western Sydney University will open a campus next year in Indonesia.

One of the organisers of the conference in Adelaide, Tennealle O’Shannessy, chief executive officer of IDP Education, said AIEC 2023 provides a forum for industry leaders to discuss the opportunities and challenges in international education and “how we can best build a sustainable future for the industry, and how we can promote the importance and benefits of international education to those outside our industry who make decisions and shape policies”.

Another organiser, Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, said that Australia has long played an instrumental role catalysing the development and transformation of the global education sector.

“It’s only fitting that this week the sector’s leaders [came] together in Adelaide to find ways to continue to drive these advancements and support the sector’s ongoing growth,” he said.