Research shows that Australia continues to be one of the most affordable overseas study destinations, with costs of living and course fees significantly lower than the USA and UK. Reports that Australia will significantly increase tuition fees and other costs are not correct. In spite of its small population, Australia has the third largest number of international students of English speaking nations.
Reasons to be cheerful: Australia adds up for international students
New data from English language testing company IDP Education is sending an upbeat signal to Australian universities that international students may be ready to come back in big numbers as COVID-19 begins to receding.
When IDP Education published its results in August it said anecdotally 74 per cent of overseas students wanted to resume their studies once the pandemic was over.
“International students know the cost of study in Australia and they know the limits of post-study work rights, but they are still keen to come,” says Andrew Barkla from IDP Education.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review on Thursday, chief executive Andrew Barkla said the company now had hard numbers showing “a pipeline of 82,000 students who have applications for the next six months and are ready to go”.
Statistics about International Students in Australia
Given Australia accounts for 47 per cent of the student volumes that IDP places internationally, Mr Barkla agreed it was reasonable to expect at least 38,000 customers of the company were thinking of coming to Australia.
Given that 120,000 international enrolments could be expected in Australian universities in 2021, the fact that one provider alone could speak for up to a third of that volume was encouraging.
IDP has a dominant position with the International English Language Testing System, which it developed with the British Council and Cambridge University.
“These are students who want an onshore campus experience. But more than that they know their circumstances,” Mr Barkla said.
“They understand the price the universities charge. They know the cost of living and how the dials are set for post-study work rights. So they have the complete picture and they still want to come.”
The next step was for government to send a signal that the door is open to international students. Pilot programs to fly students to Australia were important even if the numbers were only small because they signalled a government commitment to the scheme.
Pilot programs needed
“We need to get these pilot programs moving. We need a level of public confidence so students and families see they can be done in a secure and safe way that benefits the public as well as the students,” Mr. Barkla said.
“Pilot programs are a signpost that Australia is prioritising the opening up of the international sector.”
The Northern Territory said it would accept 100 international students and South Australia will take 300, although neither has committed to a date. By contrast, the UK is taking any international student arrivals and Canada is accepting any who can proved face-to-face teaching is their only option.
Australia also had not done as well as Canada and the UK in supporting students stuck in the country during the ban on international travel.
But on post-study work rights, which are important for international students who want work in their host country to pay off education, Australia was “not doing too badly”, Mr Barkla said.
A single reform to post-study work rights would make a difference: allowing overseas students who are studying online to include the online study they do in their home country towards a work-visa entitlement, instead of being able to include only those hours physically studying in Australia.
He doubted there would be a long-term setback from Australia’s political dissonance with China.
Mr. Barkla said “The Chinese family who is looking to send their child overseas – they are pretty savvy; and they’re pretty connected beyond what they read in the Chinese press”.
Interest to study in Australia increasing
“I’ve been in webinars and on roadshows in China and, looking forward, the interest in Australia and the UK as a study destination is increasing. If anything, it’s the geopolitical tension between China and that US gets more attention.
“So the number of parents who would normally be looking to the US are now shifting their interest to the UK or Australia.”
In a recent interview with the Financial Review the vice-chancellor of the University of NSW, Ian Jacobs, said he was optimistic on the outlook for universities because demand for education was moving to a higher level.
“In the 19th century, primary education was extended to most people. When it comes to the 20th century, it was secondary education. In the 21st century, tertiary education will be available to all,” he said.
“…Australia is placed to deliver that, face-to-face, online, short or long courses, undergraduate and postgraduate.”
Mr. Barkla shared his optimism. After in initial pandemic-related fall, IDP’s English language testing volumes have returned to 55 per cent of what they were pre-COVID-19.
As restrictions ease the company has plans to open another 50 labs globally to add capacity.
IDP Education has a business model universities would envy, and could possibly learn from.
When COVID-19 hit Mr Barkla asked staff to accept a 20 per cent cut in salary (a higher percentage for senior executives), and in return he would guarantee no job losses. Within five days 100 per cent of staff had signed up.
At the height of the crisis it raised $250 million in the market to bolster its cash position, and so far it has burned through just $27 million.
Source: Australian Financial Review