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International student completion rates remain high in Australia

The number of international students completing their studies at Australian universities and non-university higher education institutions (NUHEIs) has remained steady for the fourth consecutive year, according to a recent report on higher education from the Department of Education and Training.

AustraliaThe latest figures show a 35% gap in completion rates between domestic and international university students after four years. Photo: DFAT.

A nine-year analysis reveals the gap between domestic and international completion rates shrinks considerably

The report, which details the percentage of students who have completed their studies four and nine years after commencing university and four and six years after commencing at a NUHEI, found 70.8% of university and 62.8% of NUHEI international students completed their studies over the period 2011-2014.

This is in comparison to their domestic counterparts, with 45% for universities and 45.7% for NUHEIs over four-years.

“As any Australian domestic student will tell you, international students are incredibly conscientious on campus and in their study routines,” said IEAA CEO Phil Honeywood.

“As any Australian domestic student will tell you, international students are incredibly conscientious on campus and in their study routines”

Speaking with The PIE News, Honeywood reasoned the gap between domestic and international student completion rates included different study attitudes in Asia, such as the prevalence of cram schools and after-school tutorials, as well as the implied pressure to perform, based on the substantial financial investment made by a student’s parents.

Time is also a factor. Unlike domestic students, international students are unable to study part-time while in Australia. The nine-year analysis reveals the gap between domestic and international university student completion rates shrinks considerably, to 73.5% and 77.1% respectively.

As well as completion rates, the report details the percentage of students who are still enrolled in their course at the conclusion of the period, those who re-enrolled but dropped out and the percentage of students who did not return after their first year of study.

Rates within all four categories experienced minor shifts, with completion rates shifting downward 0.4% and 2.3% and drop out rates after a year increasing 0.7% and 0.4% for universities and NUHEIs respectively.

“Completion rates for overseas higher education students studying in Australia have been relatively steady over recent years,” ACPET CEO Rod Camm said.

“Overall, there’s not a lot of movement in completion rates for both domestic or international students studying at NUHEIs.”

Camm added year-to-year variability is influenced by a significant number of different factors, meaning it is difficult to get a clear picture on particular trends in the data.

“I think we really have to do more research into student behaviour to ascertain what’s behind drop out rates,” Honeywood said, echoing Camm’s comments.

“We really have to do more research into student behaviour to ascertain what’s behind drop out rates”

In particular, Honeywood said the simplicity of the data, which does not specify the reason a student does not complete their studies, means part of the overall story is being lost.

Details like if students change their minds after commencing studies and transfer to a different course within their institution are lost in the current completion rate data collection. Likewise, students who choose or are poached by cheaper and “easier” to enter institutions or students choosing to transfer into “better-known institutions” to complete their studies aren’t shown.

“Some of these drop-out rates don’t properly reflect the fact that students transfer into other courses and I think more data is required before we can make any substantial conclusion,” he said.

“It’s a two-way street. I’ve had complaints from high quality private providers who’ve said to me ‘we’re leaking students in second and third or fourth year to public universities… because they want to actually graduate with a better-known public university or public TAFE diploma or degree’.”

Meanwhile, non-continuation rates in the UK show international drop out rates after the first year have fallen considerably in the past decade, finally lower than or on par with domestic student figures.

The proportion of non-EU students not continuing into second year has decreased from 11.5% in 2003/04 to 6.7% in 2012/13. The change is even greater among non-EU foundation students where drop out rates have fallen 23.6% in 2003/04 to 12.2% in 2012/13.

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