Exclusive analysis: the international ed mess in the west and what to do about it

by a CMM special correspondent

 May international student numbers are released and it’s more bad news for already struggling WA, with Perth market share continuing to fall to an overall 6.2% of national commencers.

Analysis of this data shows both the VET and higher ed sectors not able to match the growth from the eastern states and in decline.

In VET, WA struggles to keep pace with NSW, Victoria and Queensland. May data show’s they are up well, with NSW and Queensland slightly below 11% growth and VIC at 8.5%. In contrast WA VTE is at -0.4%.

Higher education it is a similar story, NSW up 9.4%, Victoria 12.8%, Queensland 13.3% and SA 6.2% with WA struggling at -0.4%.

There are two core issue in Perth’s performance.

Traditional markets: Many of WA’s traditional bread and butter markets are off the boil. Take Singapore for example, in the same time zone and a quick flight down to Perth. 2011 was the last high point for Singaporeans in Australia, you have to go back to 2002 to see a higher number in the May YTD figures. Since then WA’s commencement rate has moved from 444 to 284 in 2018 or a 36% decline. The situation is similar with Indonesia.

China: It appears Perth isn’t as attractive to the east coast or even SA for Chinese students.  In higher education, using May data, the past 5 years has seen east coast institutions increase their commencements significantly – NSW (65%), VIC (115%), QLD (80%), SA (52%). WA has a total increase in rate of just 11%, and this is rounded up. With the national growth at 82% for this sector over this period WA is well behind the pack.

To make matters worse SA, whose commencements from China YTD May are at 2,057, almost outdoes WA to a factor of 2:1 with WA commencements at 1,041.

In VET it is a similar story with NSW up (29%), VIC (85%), QLD (21%), SA (2%). WA has gone backwards with -1%. National growth over this period is 52%.

As China watchers largely tip that market to come off the boil in the next 12 months WA may have missed the greatest opportunity in the last two decades.

What’s the fix?:  Continuing investment from Queensland, Victoria and to a lesser extent NSW is now biting, with WA institutions doing their own thing, without coming close to matching what competitor destinations have been doing – building good will and champions for their proposition.

The WA State strategy is expected   in coming weeks and with it an expected funding boost. It will be left to a changed Study Perth to champion this. On the back of the recently released “Understanding the International Student Experience” report  they will be busy indeed with the spotlight firmly on their activity.

The light at the end of the tunnel may well be Navitas founder and former CEO Rod Jones who is the newish Study Perth Chair. If anyone can herd the cats it is he. Let’s hope the government and institutions alike listen, and listen hard.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education