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ISANA explores horizons for reset and recovery in Australasia

Thought leaders, practitioners, and key stakeholders in the international education sector in Australia and New Zealand deep dived into ideas for reset and recovery of the sector, during the recently concluded 32nd ISANA Conference.

Photo: ISANA

The series of International Student Sentiment Surveys, run by Study Australia, have collected more than 16,000 responses over the past two years

Speakers urged for a reset to Australia’s international education offering.

“[Australia] is a great country, with lots of opportunities and great teachers who care,” said Claire Field, principal of Claire Field and Associates, in her keynote speech.

It’s also where we help you prepare for global careers, with innovative teaching and work integrated learning. When you study with an Australian provider, we’ll make sure you can learn and earn, and do work in the industry you want a career in.

“Our institutions have extensive and growing overseas operations and relationships with employers in other countries across the region. Our courses are designed to help you flourish in your future career, wherever you choose to work.”

Simon Moore, assistant secretary of Partnerships at the Australian government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment, elaborated on the recently released 10-year international education strategy.

The strategy reaffirms “Australia’s commitment to providing high quality student experiences and Australia’s willingness to work with international partners for education and research”, he said.

“Different cultures and perspectives in classrooms and campuses build the intercultural understanding of Australian students and prepares them to enter a globalised workforce,” he added.

Opening the conference, ISANA president Bronwyn Gilson called on peak bodies to communicate and support each other.

“Based on what we have been through, how do we take the best from the past, and build a resilient, best practice [driven], student and staff centric industry? And, how do we do this sustainably… can we have a carbon neutral footprint?”

She highlighted the need for having a “coordinated approach and one voice” towards building awareness about the immense value that international education and international students bring, to the Australian economy, community and society at large.

CEO of International Education Association of Australia Phil Honeywood highlighted the close work between his organisation and ISANA, with the collaboration recently formalised via a memorandum of understanding.

It is going to have a lot of good spin offs in terms of the cooperative efforts between our two associations. We are both long standing associations and we are really passionate about supporting student welfare and student service delivery,” he said.

We needed to tune into [the perspectives of] onshore and offshore students”

CEO of diversity & inclusion experts MindTribes, Div Pillay, emphasised that communications from universities and government agencies have needed to have a “humanistic touch and a cross cultural lens”.

“We needed to tune into [the perspectives of] onshore and offshore students whose home country wasn’t Australia,” she emphasised.

Honeywood also reiterated the need to have “culturally appropriate” mental health counselling facilities and arrangements for international students.

Manager for International Education (Global Engagement) at Austrade Helen Kronberger, while giving a detailed account of the mechanisms that were put in place to support international students and the initiatives of Austrade in communicating those to students, conceded that, “we have a lot of work to do as a country to reassure [international] students and their parents”.

“There is always more that can be done, but I think we have seen a genuine effort to care across the board and I genuinely hope that the planned easing of restrictions will enable students to confidently travel to see their family and return to Australia to continue their studies,” she said.

The series of International Student Sentiment Surveys, run by Study Australia and collected more than 16,000 responses over the past two years, show “ongoing commitment by a strong majority to stay and complete studies” in Australia, she said. However, the percentage of that group indicating they’d complete their studies in Australia had fallen from 79% to 67% between the second survey and the fourth, carried out in September, she said.

While speaking about supporting international students, Chris Beard, executive director of ISANA NZ, mentioned that, “the best policy is a grounded policy”.

“It’s important for those who work closest with the international students, to be also involved in the decision making at the broader policy level, he said, emphasising that with the disruptions caused by the pandemic’s “choppy waters”, there came “opportunities to look up and see fresh horizons”.

“The question for all of us is what would we change” once the pandemic eased and things got back to normal, he said.

The question for all of us is what would we change”

“So, what was a little bit dysfunctional before that needs to be worked on and what do we not want to return to?” he urged all to deliberate.

Beard further mentioned that the sector in New Zealand was “exploring not only the sense of [having a] recovery, but also reset”. The sector should look to transform the dialogue from international students being seen as “cash cows” to actually making them “the heart of the enterprise”, he noted.

ISANA NZ was “pressing hard for the formation of a specialist international education profession, with its own pathways and its own sector specific credentials, so that international education specialists could be employed in policy, in regulatory bodies, in schools, [etc.] as specialists”, he continued.

The 2021 ISANA Conference witnessed over 40 sessions featuring more than 60 presenters and presentations, centring on the sub themes of: Compliance, Policy & ESOS, Employability, Future of international education, Impact of international education experience, and Innovation.

The 2022 conference is set to be held in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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