Help from above
It must be heartening for institutions in some countries to witness the level of interest that their government is taking to improve the appeal of international education opportunities in their country. Australia is perhaps the best example of this - the government is often mentioning that international education is 'Australia's sixth-largest export earner' or 'the third-largest services export' and continues to make efforts to aid the industry.
One of the significant decisions that the Australian government has taken recently is to usher in online visa applications for all applicants. This will increase the convenience of the visa process for many and comes at a time when the USA has effectively made its own visa process more complicated - by issuing the Sevis rule that legislates the need for students to pay a non-refundable US$100 fee (to help fund the Sevis tracking system) prior to paying their visa application fee.
In terms of improving the application process, Australia is also seeking to regulate the immigration activities of education agents around the world, which is both a bold move and a daunting task. It claims the motivation behind this idea, which is currently being discussed, is its aim to be able to offer students enrolling with an Australian institution an element of protection from unscrupulous agents. It also aims to regulate migration agents dealing with migration to Australia.
Protecting students from unscrupulous operators is an issue that the UK is currently concerning itself with. It has announced that the government's Education Department is to oversee the establishment of a register of bona fide private colleges, while its Immigration and Nationality Directorate has been investigating suspected bogus colleges and the police have been looking into suspected visa scams.
Once students arrive in a country, there is also concern that they settle in satisfactorily and assimilate into the environment. Having undertaken a study of international students to canvass their opinions about a range of issues, the New Zealand Ministry of Education has noted that more must be done to improve interaction between international students and members of local communities. In Australia, one university is paying particular attention to ensuring its Muslim students settle in. Victoria University has linked up with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to provide appropriate pastoral care.
Another finding of the New Zealand survey was that 41 per cent of students were unsure if their institution offered them good value for money. This can only cause more concern for the New Zealand government, on top of the recent protests about annual increases in overseas students' fees at university level. Value for money is a recurring theme in the industry, as most providers continually strive to combine services offered with a realistic price, thus offering value in the overall package for students.
The price may only be one consideration for a range of nationalities, however. Agents in certain countries point out that a key factor for their clients when choosing where to study may be the opportunity to work part-time while they are there. Canada is a popular language travel destination that is now bouncing back after a difficult year in 2003 when Sars put the squeeze on enrolments. But sources in the country are all too aware that work rights for all would allow them to be more competitive. This calls for legislational help from above.