International Education in the Asian Century was the theme for the conference, and various sessions analysed opportunity in Asia, but there was also a clear focus to the event on understanding what international students want, and what influences their purchase patterns. The recurring theme was graduate opportunity, or Return on Investment (ROI) for international students.
Research undertaken by IDP and Rob Lawrence, delivered in separate sessions, was fascinating for its depth of information on buyer behaviour, such as the importance of family on decision making (18.5% of students have a sibling already in Australia; 77% of those have a sibling in the same city). Both sessions also endorsed an observation that course choice (and corresponding employment outcomes) is increasingly overtaking institution choice as primary influencer.
“What are the buzzwords of international education in 2012?” asked Lawrence, who runs Prospect Research and Marketing.”Portability, flexibility and employment.”
The bad news, according to Alan Olsen’s report, commissioned by IEAA and already covered on The PIE News here, was that the industry decline will bottom out next year and not return to 2009 levels until 2020. Stephen Connolly, outgoing President of IEAA, observed that with 27,000 jobs predicted to have been lost to date, there was little national attention given to what has been a devastating impact on the sector; Australia’s third largest export.
The good news was that as well as efforts by the Australian government (and sector) to increase employment prospects for graduating international students, it was recognised that Australia wasn’t only focused on boosting numbers, but on the quality experience, and it is engaging with the sector.
At a panel session which featured Michael Chaney, Chair of the International Education Advisory Council (which is in charge of developing a new industry five-year plan) and various sector heads, it was suggested that “talking about a billion dollar return doesn’t always serve us well”. Chaney praised various student engagement models in certain states, and said that the government “was not seeking to direct the industry but to facilitate it”.
Aleem Nizari, National President of the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), praised Australia for having a strategy that was quality-focused over numbers-focused.
The riverfront exhibition centre in Melbourne
With some new government changes, such as Streamlined Visa Processing, facing some veiled criticism (see our Analysis article on IEAC submissions here), Chaney also asked sector heads what they wanted to see to help the sector thrive and the answer was unanimous: unshackle institutions so that they can be “big thinking and innovative”.
See more pictures of the event here.