It’s beginning to look a lot like… Canada
If there was a prize for the most talked-about country in the industry, Canada would have probably won it in 2018. After smashing its 2022 goal of hosting 450k students five years in advance, the international education industry got “caught in the crossfire,” as one stakeholder put it, in a diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia.
“The MAC Report was widely seen as a ‘missed opportunity'”
An online comment made by Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freedland, criticising Riyadh’s decision to arrest Samar Badawi, sister of imprisoned human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi, prompted a “sharp response” from Riyadh.
Not only did the Kingdom freeze trade and investment deals, it also decided to suspend all King Abdullah Scholarships for students in Canada, and relocate Saudi KASP students already in the country to other countries to complete their studies – creating waves of concern and inconvenience.
Despite the hit, Canada’s had a very successful year – its policies being equally praised and envied by other destination countries. One example of such being the launch of the Student Direct Stream, which made visa processing times faster for students from four Asian countries. In fact, growth has led to growing pains, with some institutions referring the big surge of the last few years as like “firefighting“.
China’s steady steps forward
Another country in the spotlight has been China, which saw plenty of headlines in The PIE in 2018, focusing on the solid performance of the country as an education destination with almost 500,000 internationals enrolled – similar to Canada’s curve.
Trade or political tensions were a subtext to some of our stories, such as the news that from June this year, some Chinese students could have their visas restricted to one year in duration in the US because of concerns around intellectual property leaks back to China. Anton Crace also considered the reality of relations in Australia.
In August, we reported that as part of a series of positive policy changes, the Chinese Ministry of Education revealed plans to allow international students at Chinese universities nationwide to work part-time, while also boosting the allocated budget for educating of international students by 16%.
China’s investment into education operations in other countries continued to proliferate slowly, and those close to deal-making activity report that a number of Chinese and Hong Kong-based investors are keen on acquisition opportunities. Deals included new assets added to Full Circle‘s business portfolio in the UK and reports of Chinese intent towards the US.
New Zealand’s new work rights
“One of the biggest transactions in the sector was EC acquiring Embassy English”
Perhaps one of the biggest policy changes in our industry happened when New Zealand unveiled a generous new post-study work rights system. One of the main changes was aimed at reducing workplace exploitation by eliminating employer-sponsored visa.
But the news, while well received, wasn’t all positive. Below the degree level, where work rights have been limited, the government said the changes could lead to a reduction of between 1,200 and 6,000 fewer students, which it estimates would mean between $12m-$59m less in tuition fee revenue. PTEs remain a source of debate in the Australasian sector, and should be a space to watch in 2019.
The UK’s MAC report – a missed opportunity
Another country’s international sector was hoping for changes to its post-study work regime, but its government had other plans.
Sector stakeholders in the UK had long awaited the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on the impact of international students, hoping it would recommend the introduction of a new post-study work visa. But while there was a relaxation of some post-study work rights at master’s level, the committee ruled out a new visa category per se – and recommended to keep students in the net migration count. This was widely seen as a “missed opportunity” by those in the sector.
Sarah Cooper of English UK noted the ELT sector was overlooked. “The committee did not seem to appreciate the significance of English language students on the overall international student journey, and in particular the transition to HE,” she told The PIE.
She hoped the government would abolish existing work restrictions, also allowing students to transfer from ELT to HE without having to return home to apply for a new visa.
“Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal”
Still in the UK, the case of the international students who had their visa cancelled or were deported following the ‘TOEIC cheating scandal’ in 2014 has finally made it to parliament, where one MP defined it “Britain’s forgotten immigration scandal.”
The PIE has been following the case since its very start and charting the real emotional impact on those affected – for the full picture, click here.
Enhanced powers in Ireland
Meanwhile, across the water in Ireland, QQI – the agency responsible for assuring quality in Irish education and training – welcomed cabinet approval of a Bill that will enhance its powers in the area of English language education.
This was a key milestone in the Irish ELT sector’s long battle for the introduction of an International Education Mark and the establishment of a ‘Protection for Enrolled Learners Fund’; the importance of which came to light most recently when the snap closure of Grafton College in Dublin left more than 400 students without a school and teachers fearing “homelessness”.
Key acquisitions and business moves
“I have no doubt that closer coordination and partnership will be important in reversing enrolment trends”
Sticking with the ELT industry, this year also saw one of the biggest transactions in the sector with EC acquiring Embassy English. The company will be closing eight of the Embassy adult schools across the world as part of its process of merging the Embassy English portfolio into the EC operation.
Global education provider Navitas Group received an unsolicited AUD$1.97bn bid from a consortium – which included former Navitas chief executive Rod Jones – to take over the publicly-listed company and move it into the private RollCo, but the firm rejected the offer.
There were also rumours in the UK press about the sale of INTO University Partnerships mid-year, although nothing has been published of note since this suggestive story.
ELT, EMI, OMG?
From ELT to EMI, the Netherlands debated internationalisation and language at length this year. While increasing numbers of international students has highlighted some capacity problems, especially in regards to accommodation, the proliferation of English-medium of instruction university courses has generated discontent in some parts of the industry.
For some it’s a question of accessibility, for others of identity – but the debate should be shifted to understand internationalisation as more than just incoming student mobility, Nuffic’s Freddy Weima told the Dutch Parliament.
And while the association that sued two universities for offering too many English-taught courses lost its case in court, the minister of education, culture and science reminded the sector that internationalisation needs to be managed to ensure that higher education remains accessible to local students.
Rapprochement between State and Commerce in US
Finally, US stakeholders were excited at the appearance of the US State Department – representing the EducationUSA network around the world – on the same stage as the US Department of Commerce at the recent AIRC Conference.
With declining new enrolments in the US documented by the Open Doors report for the second year in a row, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs was in Miami to announce to the AIRC community that the EducationUSA network was ready to engage with education agencies among “all our counterparts in the US higher education community”.
Agencies accredited by AIRC are considered to show best practice within the business of education advising. Past president of AIRC, David Di Maria told us: “I have no doubt that closer coordination and partnership between AIRC, EducationUSA, higher education institutions, the US Commercial Service and reputable third-parties, such as AIRC-certified agencies, will play an important role in reversing troubling enrolment trends.”
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We look forward to seeing what 2019 will bring, and seeing you all very soon at global events!