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Aus: 18% growth in economic value of int’l education hides future worries

The value of Australian international education has surpassed record levels for the fourth consecutive financial year, growing by over 18.5% in 2016/17, according to the latest export data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australia, economic value of international educationAustralia's growth in the economic value of international education hides discrepancies in enrolment figures from state to state stakeholders say. Photo: flickr/Williamnyk

International education expenditure has grown to over A$24.1bn

The data, which lists the export debits and credits across all Australian sectors, showed international education expenditure grew to over A$24.1bn, consisting of $23.5bn in direct spending and an additional $650,000 in other services.

“This is a testament to the reputation of Australian education across the world,” education minister Simon Birmingham said.

“The data shows that international education is critical to Australia’s economic prosperity.”

“This is a testament to the reputation of Australian education across the world”

Pushed by the largest percentage growth between financial years since 2008/09, when economic value grew by an unprecedented 21.4%, the latest figure appears to be a direct result of significant enrolments growth in Australia, which to date have increased by 13.6%.

But while the overall growth showed increasing confidence in Australia as a study destination, some within the industry warned the figures, which only detail the economic impact to the whole of Australia, could be hiding state and sector-level problems.

Reflecting on enrolment data, which provides a more in-depth look at figures by state and sector, Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia, said there were several possible areas of concern.

“Overall we’ve seen positive [enrolment] growth across sectors,” Blacker told The PIE News.

“[But] it does differ by states. There’s been far more growth experienced in the eastern states (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland).”

Blacker said the disproportionate enrolment growth between states would translate to unbalanced value growth, and in some sectors significant losses, as was found in EA’s latest market intelligence report.

“The unfortunate position at the moment is Western Australia’s down 17.5% [ELICOS enrolments] year-to-date. That will have the inverse effect in terms of economic contribution to WA.”

This overreliance on some locations could, in turn, pose serious threats to the future of Australian international education, argued Blacker.

IEAA president Christopher Ziguras agreed with Blacker’s comments, adding, “Education providers outside of the big cities need to leverage their unique selling points and quality of student experience.”

“The current concentration of students in our capital cities has the potential to really compromise student outcomes,” he said.

“Some student groups can be inclined to form clusters with their own nationality, which can impede English language development and diminish their international experience.”

“The current concentration of students in our capital cities has the potential to really compromise student outcomes”

Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson, meanwhile, said the results were a direct outcome of the areas Australia was getting right.

“We know from the very large-scale surveys conducted every second year by the Australian government that international students choose Australia for very good reasons,” she said, pointing to ongoing student satisfaction surveys.

“These include the strong reputation of our qualifications, the excellent reputation of Australia’s education system as a whole, our strong record of personal safety and security, the quality of our research and the great reputation of our universities.”

But while upbeat, she also issued a warning to the industry to remain vigilant if further growth is to be achieved.

“At every level – universities, government and wider Australian society – we want to send a very clear message that we welcome international students warmly and we want them to make Australia their home away from home.”

2017 is expected to see further international education records broken in Australia, with year-to-May data showing student numbers at 502,000, just over 50,000 short of the 2016 total.

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