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7 unmissable moments from The PIE Live Australia

Over 350 professionals from the international education sector gathered on the Gold Coast in July at the inaugural PIE Live Australia for two days of discussions, upskilling and networking.

An international student speaking at The PIE Live Australia student roundtable. Photo: Thurtell Photography.

The conference took place in the same month Australia reinstated a 24-hour limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work

Attendees from over 15 countries heard directly from those at the forefront of the Australian sector, which brings in an estimated AUS $29 billion to the country each year.

Delegates also had the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world and let their hair down at a glamorous gala dinner. 

Here are seven moments you might have missed at this year’s conference. 

1. Speaking truth to power at the international student roundtable


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One of the most popular sessions of the conference was the international student roundtable, where attendees had the chance to hear from almost 30 students from 27 countries about the realities of relocating to Australia. 

French student Cecilia Picaut spoke about the isolation she felt during the pandemic as well as her struggle to fund her living costs throughout that time. As a result, she began her own business, which she still runs today.  

Pakistani student Hussain Akbar revealed that rising costs had forced him to switch to a cheaper course after he arrived in Australia, despite having secured the higher grades needed for his first-choice institution. 

“I feel left behind,” he told attendees. 

2. A call to share “good news stories” about international students

With multiple government inquiries and reviews linked to international education ongoing in Australia, and a new accord for universities on the horizon, leaders in the sector shared what they are fighting for in these reforms. 

Looking beyond individual policy points, panellists in the first session of the conference agreed on the need to “change the narrative” around international students and promote the value they bring to Australia beyond economic contributions. 

“International students are being seen as the problem for accommodation and the rental crisis, even though we’re not back to levels we were in 2019 when we weren’t at a crisis level,” said Brett Blacker, CEO of English Australia. 

He added that the sector should be doing more to tell “good news stories” around international students and be on the front-foot of advising the government what constitutes a “genuine student” as migration changes loom

“I know good news doesn’t sell news but we are the champions of that story,” he said.

3. Reflecting on changing work rights

The conference took place in the same month Australia reinstated a 24-hour limit on the number of hours international students are allowed to work. Speakers debated the impact the cap would have on the sector, with many agreeing that while students should not be seen as cheap labour, the opportunity to work during study is important. 

Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, took a pragmatic approach to the issue. 

“Young Australians will not do the job today international students are willing to do and we’ve got a record low unemployment rate,” he said. 

“So for some time we’ve got to rely on temporary labour and we don’t want our students to be a labour force… but if the fact that they can be employed part time is a means of persuading the government that we need to have quality students, but not close the door on numbers, then I think, let’s use every lead we’ve got to ensure that happens.”

But students at the roundtable spoke about the challenge of balancing rising costs with renewed limits on work hours, with some saying the numbers don’t add up. 

4. Sharing travel tales in a live podcast recording

Over lunch on the second day, attendees could watch a live recording of Tales from the Departure Lounge, a travel podcast featuring guests from the higher education sector. 

Host Nicholas Cuthbert was joined by Louis Clay, associate dean for student journey at the University of Melbourne’s Trinity College. Clay spoke about his memorable experience of hiking abroad with academics and how confusion at airport security once led to a free upgrade. 

5. Predicting the future of international education 

Throughout the event, speakers and delegates made predictions about the future of the sector and discussed innovations within international education. 

Jonathan Pratt, associate director of international student recruitment at Victoria University International, spoke about the institution’s decision to pivot to teaching one subject at a time for four weeks in small groups, allowing students to join at multiple points throughout the year and encouraging integration. 

Rob McGowan, vice president of international at Torrens University, said the university had explored a number of online innovations during the pandemic, including a recruitment platform that replaced human counsellors with online counsellors, but that these wouldn’t be staying.  

“As the world has sort of gone back to this real insatiable need for the human touch, actually, some of those things have been less appropriate and less important,” he said.

“Where we had great success at a moment in time, that moment in time has passed, and particularly around that online recruitment approach.”

6. A spectacular gala dinner raising funds for Uganda

Tuesday night saw the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre transformed for a gala dinner, where attendees had the chance to socialise with new and old colleagues over a three-course meal. 

During the evening, international student Twisha Bokhoree delivered a moving speech about her experience studying in Australia, before drawing the names of seven raffle winners, with prizes including an agent familiarisation trip, an Apple watch and a The PIE fan kit. 

Money raised from the dinner was donated to Shine with Skills, a charity supporting communities in Uganda with access to skills training and education. 

7. Employability and migration in focus

One recurring question at the event was whether institutions are doing enough to support international students to find jobs once they graduate. 

“Every other Uber driver that I chat to has a postgraduate degree”

“We still have a way to go when it comes to educating Australian employers about the value of international graduates,” said Jennine Tax, acting CEO at Study Gold Coast.

“As I travel around this country and I’m in an Uber, every other Uber driver that I chat to has a postgraduate degree… and is still waiting for their break.” 

Commenting on this later, David Linke, managing director at EduGrowth, said, “I wonder whether that’s the migration story we want to propel. If the story of Australian education is that we can help you get a visa, then I think we’re doing an injustice to the education story.”

Ainslie Moore, deputy director international at The University of Auckland, noted that half of New Zealand’s international students return home immediately after graduation. 

“We need to be thinking about what their choices are and how, why, what we teach them, why the skills we give them will be useful to them in their home country, because we know they’re not going to stay. 

“And if we don’t position them for employment success in their home country, then we’re not delivering.”

The PIE Live will return to Australia in July 2024.

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