As reported by the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) last November, the downturn in Australian export education is not expected to pick up until 2017. The value of the market is predicted to bottom out at AUS$14 billion (US$14.6 billion) this year, and to return to 2009’s value of roughly AUS$18 billion (US$18.8 billion) in 2017.
In terms of international enrolments, the country’s university sector has not escaped the slump. Year-to-date enrolments for HE in September 2012 saw a 4.5 per cent drop in enrolments and a 7.1 per cent fall in commencements, as Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive at Universities Australia the peak body representing the Australian university sector highlights. She laments that the decline is due to the drop in enrolments in other sectors from which students pathway to university (see STM August 2012, page 7), explaining, “Reasons for this include increasing competition from the UK and the USA, traditional source countries investing heavily in their own education systems, the high value of the Australian dollar and uncertainty around student visa policy changes.”
Opinion is divided on whether 2011’s Knight Review, launched by the government to tackle issues surrounding overseas student visa policy, has been successful thus far. Phil Honeywood, Executive Director of IEAA, was quoted in The Australian saying that due to an overall lack of understanding of visa work rights, agents are directing students to other countries such as Canada and New Zealand. Robinson, however, among other contributors, provides assurance that the changes have been successful, particularly the streamlined visa process. She says, “Universities are working closely with government agencies to ensure these changes result in a sustainable, well-regulated industry focussed on providing a quality and positive student experience for all its students,” adding that the association is working with the government to finalise policy on post-study work visas.
Despite the downturn, it is not all doom and gloom, with Robinson commenting, “Postgraduate research enrolments and commencements were up by eight and 1.5 per cent respectively over the same period last year. Other sectors also appear to be picking up and there have been shoots of recovery due to double digit increases from some regions, for instance Latin America, the Philippines and parts of Asia.” The University of Tasmania (UTAS), meanwhile, has seen a rise in Middle Eastern students over the last five years, partly owing to the introduction of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Scholarship Programme, allowing Saudis to study at the world’s top 500 universities, reveals Johanna Wilson at the university.
UTAS has seen a rise in overseas student numbers, with Wilson revealing that the institution had more than 3,400 overseas students of around 100 different nationalities at campuses in Hobart and Launceston at the end of last year, compared with around 3,250 in 2011. “The continuing strength of the Australian dollar has posed challenges in remaining economically attractive to international students,” Wilson says. “However, UTAS is well-placed in this regard due to having campuses in cities with a lower cost of living compared to most other study destinations in Australia, affordable tuition fees and a generous scholarship programme,” she says, explaining that more than 700 international students received a 25 per cent reduction in fees last year.
Griffith University, meanwhile, has seen a slight dip in enrolments, with 10,967 internationals in 2011 and 11,778 in 2010. “We peaked in 2010 and are now back to 2009 figures, or thereabouts,” comments Dean Gould, while Director of Griffith International, Nicole Brigg, believes numbers will pick up again. “The recent Knight Review made recommendations that are positive for our industry,” she says, adding, “Griffith University has invested AUS$320 million (US$334 million) in facility upgrades across our five campuses most notable are our health centre on the Gold Coast and the self-powered Sir Samuel Griffith building at the Nathan campus... due for completion [this year]. The challenges facing the current market mean that we must offer our students more than ever before.”
Brigg says enrolments have risen in some markets and dropped in others, producing an overall minor decrease. “China is the highest represented country,” she notes. “It is in close proximity to Australia and our welcoming multicultural society means Australia is considered a safe and familiar destination that offers a world-class education experience.”
And for Australian Catholic University, Ricardo Gutierrez cites Nepal, India and France as some top markets. He reveals that popular courses with overseas students are related to health education, although he adds, “We are trying to push for business-related courses, media and communications, IT and global studies.” All contributors cite the use of overseas student recruitment agents.
Looking to the future
Although international student enrolments at Australian universities are generally in decline, a number of initiatives have been launched to get numbers back up to record figures and beyond. In New South Wales, for instance, overseas students now receive a 35 per cent discount on travel, in line with most other Australian states.
“The government’s recently released White Paper on the Asian century provides the impetus for universities to build on their existing relationships with many of their partner universities in Asia to ensure rich and enduring linkages,” continues Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia (UA), adding that UA also keenly anticipates the findings of the International Education Advisory Council, launched in the wake of the Knight Review, to advise on the developments of the international education industry. “[They] will confirm the importance of the education industry and the role universities play in ensuring Australia goes from strength-to-strength,” she continues.
And with the 2012 i-graduate International Student Barometer (with 198,772 overseas student respondents from 16 countries) revealing that 87 per cent of overseas students studying in Australia are satisfied, ahead of other countries in areas such as financial support, enrolment numbers are bound to pick up in the long-term.