Claire Field sees hope for international education


Bright spots are emerging in the doom and gloom that COVID-19 has brought to international education – although some may warrant a closer look

Firstly it is a credit to institutions, like Uni Sydney, which has, so far, done better than they expected (CMM October 28) when the pandemic hit. While institutional reputation may be a partial explanation, other relevant factors include: the extent of online delivery offered by different institutions and/or their ability to quickly scale up quality online delivery, and their international student demographics.

The decision by the Chinese government to recognise overseas qualifications where students studied fully online due to COVID-19, has been a bonus for Chinese international students and the providers who educate them. Many existing students have continued with their studies and new students have mostly commenced as planned.In India, by contrast the government has not yet recognised fully on-line delivery by overseas institutions, despite extensive efforts to move domestic education online during COVID. This has created significant challenges for Australian universities with a high proportion of Indian students.

Overall international VET commencements also continue to impress in the circumstances – up a modest 4.5% nationally at August 2020 compared with August 2019 (CMM October 21).

However, the national picture hides some unusual trends: international VET commencements are up 22.8 per cent in South Australia and 65.7 p er cent in the NT. While international student numbers are relatively modest in both of these jurisdictions and international higher education commencements were also better in SA and the NT than they were nationally, the VET figures nonetheless appear anomalous.

Given the lack of provider-level data in VET it is difficult to determine if the SA and NT figures should be celebrated or investigated. It is something the sector and ASQA need to focus on.

Claire is an advisor to the tertiary education sector and has been engaged by ASQA to facilitate consultations as part of the development of its new self-assurance regulatory model.