by CLAIRE FIELD
The pandemic has understandably seen most statements from the tertiary sector focussed on the economic impact on the sector itself. Some have been shockingly tone-deaf
Last weekend Conor King from the Innovative Research Universities group highlighted an undercurrent of hostility vis-a-vis the return of international students.
Regrettably, we have not explained the wider community benefits of international education in Australia.
Compounding this, the pandemic has understandably seen most statements from the tertiary sector focussed on the economic impact on the sector itself.
Some have been shockingly tone-deaf.
Imagine being one of the extra 600,000 unemployed Australians wondering if you will find work/be able to pay rent and then hearing international education is important at least in part because it funds new buildings and extra research? That was what an influential international education leader presented via webinar last week.
The country and the world benefits from Australia’s research – but laid-off retail assistants, kitchen-hands and other low-paid workers face more immediate needs and will likely never set foot inside those beautiful buildings.
I write this with a strong sense of déjà vu. My predecessor at ACPET (now Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia) commissioned the first study of the sector’s economic benefits. I will never forget vice chancellors, government officials and others looking down their noses when I shared the modelling.*
Many of us are passionate about the difference education makes to people’s lives and the bonds it builds between individuals and nations. But if we cannot explain that the money international students spend in Australia, beyond their student fees, creates jobs right across the community then we do the general public and our students a disservice.
Of course, we need to be sensitive about how international students will hear these discussions. But talking about the positive impact students make across the community is far better than highlighting new buildings – and a hat-tip to the Mitchell Institute for recently starting to tackle this.
* now embedded in the ABS’ statistical program
Claire Field provides advice on VET, international education and private higher education.