June 2012 issue

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Australia’s advantage

Legislative changes favouring international students and high-ranking student cities have helped to focus attention on postgraduate study in Australia, writes Matthew Knott.

With the implementation of the Knight Review making postgraduate study more accessible, and Australian cities figuring prominently in the recent QS Best Student Cities in the World rankings (Melbourne at fourth, Sydney at sixth), Australian providers are confident their reputation for quality will draw increasing numbers of overseas students.

The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) is one of Australia’s fastest growing public universities. “International postgraduate students at USC enjoy the best of both worlds – an exceptional education in an outstanding location,” Professor Robert Elliot, Pro-Vice Chancellor of International and Quality at USC says. Elliot points to the fact that USC was the only public university in Queensland to achieve five stars in the 2012 Good Universities Guide, and topped the 2011 International Student Barometer in Australia in terms of student safety and support. “USC’s tuition fees cover items that are often charged separately at other universities,” explains Elliot. “USC also provides free overseas student health cover; free accident insurance on campus and during university-related activities; and free English language support.”

With the 100-hectare campus bordering a national park, the location is also an attraction. “The campus is home to a variety of Australian flora and fauna and it’s not unusual to see kangaroos sharing the grounds with students,” says Elliot. In terms of postgraduate programmes, Elliot advises that USC’s Master of Health Promotion, Master of Professional Accounting, and Master of Climate Change Adaptation are proving popular with international students.

RMIT University, Melbourne, was five-star ranked by the 2011 QS evaluation system, informs Avanti Redkar-Sachdeva. “RMIT has recently invested AUS$600 million (US$618 million) in its Melbourne campuses and facilities, transforming the City, Brunswick and Bundoora campuses,” Redkar-Sachdeva attests, citing state-of-the-art facilties and learning spaces.

“Our qualifications maintain currency and relevance thanks to the university’s extensive teaching and research connections with industry, community partners and leading universities on every continent,” says Redkar-Sachdeva, adding that RMIT ranked 51st in the world for graduate employability in a poll of 5,000 global employers. “At RMIT there are many opportunities to get involved in work-integrated learning including student placements and collaborative research projects with industry, all of which prepare RMIT graduates for employment.”

Victoria University is a dual-sector institution that can offer flexible packages from Tafe diplomas through to doctorate courses, advises Nick Gadd. The university has several campuses across Melbourne, and as befits the multicultural city, had a five-star rating in the 2011 Good Universities Guide for cultural diversity, reflecting a student base sourced from 90 different countries.

Gadd notes courses that are popular with international students include Master of Accounting, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERP). “Our staff and students have strong connections with industry, trades and professions. Work-integrated learning is central to our teaching,” says Gadd. An example is a partnership with software company SAP in ERP programmes. “We are one of the world’s leading institutions in ERP systems education, as recognised by industry, and we offer more subjects using SAP than any other course in Australia.”

One innovation in postgraduate provision has been Sydney-based Macquarie University’s new research training degree, the Master of Research (MRes), an integrated advanced coursework and research two-year training degree that offers entry to a PhD. Professor Jim Piper says, “The MRes will provide a much stronger preparation for students going on to a PhD, which they can expect to finish in three years, keeping total time from Bachelors to Honours completion within five years.”

In terms of recruitment, Elliot reports a mixed approach. “Our recruitment teams attend international education fairs across the globe each year, and work closely with our overseas representatives and partner institutions to promote the many benefits of studying at USC.”

Knight moves

Many of the recommendations of the much-heralded Knight Review had a particular focus on the international postgraduate sector. Chief among these was a stipulation that all applications to an Australian university, regardless of country of origin, be treated as the lowest assessment level risk for visas, along with increased post-study working rights – two years for masters and four years for PhD students. Nick Gadd at Victoria University advises that the lowest assessment level also applies to a course that is packaged with a degree, such as a Tafe diploma, which is of particular benefit to Victoria as a dual-sector institution.

Professor Robert Elliot at the University of the Sunshine Coast welcomes the changes. “Among the recommendations, easier visa processing, more work entitlements, and better access to English language support would further enhance the USC experience.” Avanti Redkar-Sachdeva at RMIT University concurs, stating that the post-study working rights “will be of extraordinary promotional benefit”, adding, “Professional international experience is of great value to international students, and this will make study in Australia extremely attractive to many international students.” Indeed, Redkar-Sachdeva detects an immediate effect. “We have noticed a slight increase in enquiries for postgraduate programmes in our key markets.”

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