More to international ed than arrivals


behind the statistics lie important stories of how education institutions are continuing to evolve as we emerge from the pandemic

The last couple of weeks have seen reports of international student commencements coming back strongly as well as doom and gloom about overseas student arrivals being “well below” pre-pandemic levels.

What to believe and how to make sense of apparently contradictory reports?

Fortunately in Australia we have comprehensive and timely data available on international students – and the reality is:

* there is a strong rebound underway in higher education – with commencements in the first two months of 2022 sitting just under commencements at the same time in 2019 (55,641 students this year compared to 57,927 in 2019)

* overall enrolments in higher education will take more time to recover – YTD February 2022 there were 263,752 international student enrolments in higher education compared to 321,479 YTD in February 2019

* VET has relatively strong commencement levels (34,227 compared with 38,035 in 2019) but overall enrolments are higher now (154,782 compared with 150,967) because of how many students switched to VET during COVID.

As for doom and gloom in the arrivals data – it merely clarifies that among the students who started their course this year, a high proportion remain offshore.

The broader question then is what do these trends mean for institutions?

Sarah Todd from Griffith University spoke with me recently about the university’s experience in welcoming students back to campus (including the varying gaps students have in their studies and what that means logistically), the challenges in educating students offshore while many of their classmates are now onshore, the impact of the floods slowing the return to campus – and much more.

In her role as the President of the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, Professor Todd also discussed some of the key themes from APAIE’s recent conference – many of which we have not fully grasped in Australia, including the role of Indigenous people in international education, the changing nature of institutional partnerships, sustainability, and increasing use of technology within the sector.

Behind the statistics lie important stories of how education institutions are continuing to evolve as we emerge from the pandemic, and a broader focus on the Asia-Pacific presents new opportunities for the sector.

Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. Her interview with Sarah Todd is available in your favourite podcast app or listen on-line.