International ed providers need to lift their games


key Commonwealth agencies specify what’s needed

Anyone wondering if the new government shares the same concerns as their predecessors about Australia’s international education sector (especially the lack of diversity in higher education) would only have to read three submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s ‘Inquiry into Australia’s Tourism and International Education Sectors’ to find the answer.

And that answer is a resounding yes – universities in particular will need to do better.

The Department of Education’s submission argues the need for more diversity, noting that in public universities the top five student source markets represented 72 per cent of international enrolments in 2021. They also note the drop in international student satisfaction during COVID (down from 75 per cent to 67 per cent) and go on to highlight that “Australia was falling behind competitors in international student satisfaction prior to COVID-19” and that “international students seek greater engagement with domestic students and Australian communities.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s submission reiterates the importance of the focus on diversity in the Australian Strategy for International Education (2022-2030). Their submission also emphasises the importance of a positive international student experience and also notes the drop in student satisfaction, as well as emphasising the need for more connections between international students and the Australian community.

Austrade’s submission echoes these concerns and also focuses on risk, noting that “there are significant risks for providers who are overly dependent on a small number of student source markets.” They go on to highlight that “pandemic impacts, such as the depleted wealth profiles of families sending students and uncertainty regarding the potential reintroduction of restrictions, is driving some students to study closer to home or to undertake part of their studies from home (online or locally available TNE) before transferring to Australia.”

VET providers should also be preparing for change.

The Department of Education and Austrade submissions both focus on the quality issues in parts of the international VET sector.

ASQA goes further – arguing in its submission for training providers to be required to meet a more comprehensive suite of governance practices (through revisions to the Standards for RTOs). They also argue the need for new measures to regulate education agents and potentially for ASQA to regulate non-AQF offshore delivery by RTOs.

Claire Field is an advisor to the tertiary education sector. She has produced a comprehensive analysis of the changes currently impacting Australian higher education, international education, VET and EdTech.