Claire Field points to three new challenges for international education


As the international education sector begins its rebound (CMM 8 August), it is timely to reflect on the last two years and what lies ahead

Congratulations are due to state, territory and local governments as well as education providers for the support they offered international students when the international border closed. When the former Prime Minister told international students and temporary migrants that “as much as it’s lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this, if you are a visitor in this country, it is time … to make your way home”, like many others I was deeply concerned. So were overseas governments and their representatives in Australia.

I wondered openly about the long-term damage that attitude would leave, with personal recommendations playing a big role in international study decisions.

The care and support provided to students and the overnight switch to mass online learning (particularly for overseas students) are responses the sector should look back on with enormous pride. They are driving the huge rebound in visa applications.

Unfortunately new challenges lie ahead.

*   youth unemployment in China is now at 20 per cent – a result of the crackdown on the tutoring and tech sectors which were major employers of graduates, plus the ongoing impact of COVID-zero policies Families are weighing up either secure government jobs after graduation (not helped by international study) or helping their children study and potentially live overseas – if parents can be sure they will be able to visit regularly. All of this creates uncertainty in student decision making.

*    The Indian rupee has fallen to its lowest ever levels against the US dollar meaning study in the US is now out of reach for some families and Australia becomes even more attractive, which in turn has issues for the diversity of our international student population.

* the latest annual survey from US think tank New America shows surging confidence in the quality of on-line higher education. A majority of Americans (55  per cent) now believe the “quality of on-line education is the same as or better than in-person education.” Last year the same survey found only 37 per cent of respondents held that view. It would be interesting to see equivalent research in our international education source markets, let alone here in Australia – but that’s a topic for another column.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector