The research, commissioned by Universities Australia and conducted by opinions tracker JWS Research, surveyed 1,500 respondents and found 81% perceived international education as ‘important’ to the national economy.
“Any initiative that communicates the benefits of international education is very welcome”
“The Australian public absolutely get it: they know international students make a hugely valuable contribution to our local communities, society, global outlook and economy,” said UA chief executive Catriona Jackson.
“The income they bring into Australia supports local jobs, wages and living standards right across the country.”
Breaking down the figures, based on what respondents already understood of the industry, 48% said they perceived international education as ‘very important or vital’ to the Australian economy, while 34% said they saw ‘some benefit’. Only 10% said they thought there was ‘no benefit’ at all.
When provided with statistics on export revenue and the number of jobs supported by the sector, which reached a record $34.9 billion and 240,00 full-time equivalent jobs in 2018, figures improved further to 85%.
The number of those who said it was ‘very important or vital’ increased ten points to 58%.
While Jackson said the findings were an important gauge for understanding the wider community’s perception of the economics of international education, she said it was important to continue to highlight additional benefits.
“Australians also benefit from the powerful personal, cultural, diplomatic and trade ties that are forged when brilliant students from across the globe spend their formative years here,” she said.
“When these talented students return home – as 85% do – they join a global network of alumni with deep understanding and lifelong affection for Australia.”
The survey is the second in as many months of Australian’s perceptions and beliefs on international education..
University of New South Wales’ earlier research found 54% of respondents agreed the government should limit international student numbers, and UA’s survey appears to indicate oscillating public opinion on the industry as a whole.
“[We’re] trying to find the balance”
In February, CISA president Bijay Sapkota said negative political rhetoric had caused these perceptions.
“Public opinion has been changed because of politicians making remarks on international students time and again without doing adequate research about international students’ contribution to the community,” he told The PIE News.
A tumultuous period for Australian international education, in the lead up to this year’s federal election and the possibility of an overhaul of its national strategy and governing council, Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA, argued for further engagement with the broader community.
“Any initiative that involves communicating the benefits of international education to the wider Australian community is very welcome,” he said.
“The fact that we’ve had two recent surveys, one from a large education institution and one from a peak body, that have very different perspectives, underlines the challenge ahead for better communication of what we do.”
Community engagement and ensuring the domestic population benefits from international education has already become an area of focus for some universities, with Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt arguing that there was a potential threshold above which there are reduce gains.
“There are limits to how many international students, in my opinion, one can take and still keep that message up, at least as the national university. Trying to find the balance is where we’re at,” he told The PIE.
The latest Department of Education and Training data revealed Australia experienced another record year, attracting 693,800 international students in 2018.