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The future is Brisbane: how one city is engaging internationally

Student Friendship Ceremonies, employer engagement, world-class digital interactive learning environments and Asian-oriented business links.. Brisbane has all this and is now the host of the G20 Leaders Summit. As the eyes of the world focus on it, Brisbane is keen to extoll the virtues of a city that is works hard to offer far more than just a study experience. Katie Duncan reports on Brisbane's bold ambitions.
May 16 2014
6 Min Read

“There’s opportunities as an international student in Brisbane that I didn’t have when I was studying in Kenya,” enthuses Raisa Ochola from Kenya. “I’ve just discovered that Brisbane offers opportunities where I can model, because I do that as a hobby, so Brisbane offers you so many things so you can build yourself as a person apart from university.”

Ochola, who is studying a Bachelor of IT & corporate management systems at one of Brisbane’s flagship institutions, QUT, is a model student (in more ways than one) for the Australian city of Brisbane.

With 75,000 international student enrolments a year, and all eyes on the city for the G20 Summit later this year, Brisbane is keen to explain its virtues and vision to be a long-term holistic education destination offering much more than just education.

Benefitting from the generous part-time work rights that all students enjoy in Australia, Ochola –  an International Student Ambassador for the city – is a great testament to that. She also works part-time at a fundraising company called Public Outreach and feels completely engaged with the city, and by default, Australia.

“It gives you the connections that you can use for your whole life”

“In Brisbane, I think as long as you have that go-getter mentality and determination, you will find a part-time job,” she says. “It gives you the connections that you can use for your whole life.”

Queensland’s star city has a well-developed international education strategy – including savvy use of students such as Ochola as ambassadors who leverage their own social media channels for Brisbane’s benefit. It has a longer-sighted approach that seeks to develop lifelong personal, professional and cultural relationships with its international students.

“It’s no longer about the duration of the course and the course fee, it’s actually about what does the student offer socially, culturally and most importantly economically as well,” explains CEO of Brisbane Marketing, John Aitken, when I meet him in his city centre office.

International students generated AUS$3.77 billion for Brisbane’s economy in 2012, broken down into AUS$1.4 billion in annual course fee revenue and AUS$2.3 billion in value-added economic activity such as visiting friends and relatives, accommodation, and other additional spending.


Students as entrepreneurs – something Aitken is keen to encourage

The city has been a trailblazer in organising Student Friendship Ceremonies, whereby international students have the opportunity to meet the Lord Mayor and network with a number of potential employers.

“Getting those international students to be entrepreneurs and to work with their channels in terms of the investment flow that can go into those enterprises is probably the growing conversation with Brisbane,” reveals Aitken.

Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Cr Graham Quirk and Aitken have been trying to increase the conversation about “capture of talent” and “diversification of our workforce,” and have already observed a follow-through of investment in a number of key industry sectors because of the inbound international student flow.

“International students add so much to Brisbane; creating a cosmopolitan and vibrant city which makes it all the more inviting for other students as well as tourists, business investors and delegates to events like the G20 Leaders Summit,” notes Quirk.

“International students add so much to Brisbane; creating a cosmopolitan and vibrant city”

Aitken adds, “Brisbane is openly and actively, through the Lord Mayor and the city, offering a point of contact. Once you’ve got your foot in the door as it were, then its up to the student [to market] their abilities and expertise, language skills and value that they can bring to the business that seeks to employ them.”

The property sector has benefited particularly well from international students as parents and families of international students invest in the city, particularly those from the Asia Pacific region who often build their lives in the city, Aitken divulges.

Nowhere is Brisbane’s global footprint stronger than the Asia Pacific region.

A sizable 80% of its international students hail from Asian countries: China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and Singapore all feature in the city’s top 10 markets by student numbers.

Brisbane’s hosting of the G20 Summit is a high-profile event but the city also runs the Asia Pacific Cities Summit, which was held in Kaohsiung in Taiwan last year and attracted over 2000 delegates from over 104 international cities.

Asia Pacific Screen Awards is also a Brisbane-owned entity, and Asia Pacific’s answer to the Academy Awards. The event is held in December each year and has an academy of 600 filmmakers throughout the Asia Pacific region.

So a strategic synergy with Asia already exists on many more levels as well as education.

Brisbane’s universities themselves have a strong Asian focus. Griffith University is known worldwide for its Asian Studies programmes.

“I think [we are] extremely Asian-focused as a university,” says Pro Vice Chancellor of International, Sarah Todd, who thinks this is reflected in its Asian intake. Griffith also recognises the importance of employment as a motivating factor for its international students, and provides a number of programmes with work-integrated learning and internship opportunities.

A dedicated member of staff counsels students on employability options and also works with employers across South East Queensland and even overseas

The university has a dedicated member of staff who counsels students on employability options and also works with employers across South East Queensland and even overseas as far as China to make them aware of the benefits of employing Griffth’s graduates.

Todd acknowledges, “the university is being relatively proactive in that area and recognising it as part of the total package.”


Revanth Araveti and Raisa Ochola are keen advocates of what else Brisbane can offer

For 2013 international student ambassador and QUT Masters student, Revanth Araveti from India, The Cube – one of the world’s largest digital interactive learning environments – was a big attraction when deciding on a university, he says.

He also values the practical nature of his course. “I got an internship at Suncorp, one of the biggest insurance companies, that’s how things fell in place, and the practices were the same as the one I’ve been studying. At QUT they expose you to real projects in the local community and ask ‘What would you do?’”

The University of Queensland (UQ), the state’s oldest and largest campus, also has dedicated staff in place to help international students with their employability.

The counsellors – trained social workers who deal exclusively with international students – are one way of the university’s ways of “mainstreaming” students from overseas,” Alison Campbell, Deputy Director of International Marketing and Recruitment, tells me when I visit.

Quality, of course is also a factor: “Students want their journey in education to be rewarding and fulfilling but also when they complete their degree they want to make sure they’ve got something tangible, and the quality of the UQ degree is an important factor in that,” she remarks.

Campbell says business and commerce programmes are particularly popular among international students, as well as medicine, for which the university is known.

Founded in 1909, the “sandstone university” is famed for its beautiful buildings and gardens, and as I left the campus and walked down to the river to catch the CityCat to the centre, I saw groups of students arriving by boat for their daily classes.

Local language schools are also recognising the importance of work opportunities for their students. BROWNS English Language School has recently introduced the barista course that combines language learning and professional development.

The next step for the export-award-winning school is its vocational courses; BROWNS Professionals will offer certificates and diplomas in business, international business, management and hospitality, and will be open to international students but also Australians.

“By targeting the Australian market as well, we will be promoting that cultural and social integration at school”

I meet Global Sales & Marketing Director, Gizelle Rezende, at the school’s slick modern premises, featuring a balcony with stunning views across the CBD (Australian terminology for Central Business District). Students seem very comfortable there, including one taking a siesta on the sofa!

“By us targeting the Australian market as well, we will be promoting that cultural and social integration at school,” says Rezende.

BROWNS is a supporter of Study Brisbane, which very adroitly markets “Australia’s New World City.”

“For our students it’s a great opportunity to be able to network and build professional networks, it really supports their experience,” explains Ben Mack, Deputy Global Sales & Marketing Director at the school.

Back to the sunny Ochola. She says she looks at her work/study/leisure life and concludes: “You’re gaining so much that will help you professionally, but ultimately you can just get lost in it and think that you’re just enjoying yourself.”

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