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Australia: higher ed sector heading to “full recovery”, data suggests

Estimates from data compiled by Australian education marketing consultants suggest the country’s sector will reach pre-pandemic enrolment levels within the next 18 months.

Studymove analysed data across multiple issues as part of the key data roundup. Photo: Pexels

China has reflected the general bounce back, now up 43% on numbers in 2020.

Studymove analysed data across multiple issues as part of the key data roundup, and showed that understanding the “2022 new global environment is vital” to boost revenue and successfully execute recruitment strategies in the next year.

“Education providers were worried that a later opening of international borders will create long-lasting effects in the engagement with international applicants,” managing director Keri Ramirez told The PIE News.

“But it seems this has not been the case so far,” he insisted.

“Education providers were worried that a later opening of international borders will create long-lasting effects”

In a presentation, Studymove went through data that showed while a heavy drop of the number of primary student visa holders occurred in the latter half of 2021 – 307,954 to 254,915 – this has already bounced back significantly, with over 280,000 holders in the country as of February 21. Some 286,723 had been predicted for the end of the month.

When it came to the number of student visas lodged, numbers are still down by 10,000 on the last quarter of 2018, where there were 41,778 – now, in the last quarter of 2021, there is still 25% fewer than pre-Covid at 30,902.

However, promisingly, this number is up over 5,000 from the last quarter of 2020.

Breaking down markets, China has reflected the general bounce back, now up 43% on numbers in 2020.

“Although, not every market is reacting in the same way,” said Ramirez.

“India in particular, is clearly a market where Australia has lost traction and it will be interesting to see how education providers manage to reengage with this country in the following months,” he explained.

This refers to a 27% YTD drop in student visas lodged from India.

Another issue that is affecting the market, according to the data, is the reduction of programs available.

The number of programs available in the year 2020 was 6,611 – this has now decreased by almost 300 programs, with the number available in 2021 at 6,350 – 28 universities cut some of their programs over the year.

“[Around] 5% of programs is not a significant number from a sector-wide point of view – but on an institutional level, this is important to put in place initiatives to reactivate some of these programs in 2023 to engage with the market fully,” said Ramirez.

Key subject areas that saw drops in the number of programs included education, health, IT and business majors.

“We noticed a reduction of these programs, which should be back now that international students are able to study on-campus,” Ramirez added.

“5% of programs is not a significant number from a sector-wide point of view”

Ramirez also mentioned that further research is currently being undertaken to determine if these programs have been made available as 100% online study only.

The report also touched upon the issue of undergraduate annual average fees for the international student – while increases happen every year, these have significantly dropped as a consequence of the pandemic – 2022’s increase was a mere 1.4%, compared to the 5.4% hike seen in 2018.

Four institutions saw more than a 4% increase, but the majority of universities took a “very conservative approach”, with 17 universities deciding against increasing their prices entirely.

“This raises a big question about the position universities are going to take for 2023 – institutions will be having these discussions in the next couple of months,” Ramirez remarked.

For the most part, scholarships look to stay the same in regards to availability in 2022 as they did in 2021 – playing an “important role in engagement of students”.

A key component sometimes not considered by data analysis is that of promotion strategies used by universities – Studymove looked at the usual methods used by institutions and how it changes comparing six different universities.

Despite the lack of face-to-face student fairs taking place over the last two calendar years, Ramirez is confident this will also experience a bounce back.

“Face-to-face marketing, including in-person fairs, will return this year – digital marketing will also play an essential part in the conversion of international applicants,” Ramirez explained.

“The big challenge for the sector is how to create the right mix of direct and digital campaigns to attract candidates effectively,” he added.

Looking at four key digital methods – social media marketing, virtual fairs, search engine marketing and student portals – six universities New Zealand that were analysed took vastly different approaches. One relied heavily on student portals, while almost 80% of another’s strategy was the use of social media.

Others take a more balanced approach, with one using 35% student fairs, 18% student portals and 11% of social media.

“Social media has proved to be very effective in creating brand and destination awareness. However, it seems that institutions still need direct contact and a more personalised approach for the final conversion of students after they formally start the application process,” said Ramirez.

It seems that analysing the best course of action will come this year, as universities seek to find the best blend of digital and face-to-face strategies to use and an “analyse the effectiveness of each channel”.

“The big challenge for the sector is how to create the right mix of direct and digital campaigns”

Studymove recommends, as the Australian sector continues through 2022, that “carefully following the number of student visa numbers for each market” is the way to effectively predict the next steps.

“It has been two long years where a lot has changed in the world and institutions need to closely track what has changed, in which markets there is demand and how candidates are changing or not changing their preferences,” Ramirez added.

To understand what comes next, he told The PIE, is “vital” to continue with successful student recruitment strategies in the coming years.

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