BD: So CIS Abroad started in the US by a guy called Jeff Palm in 1999. He sends out about 2,500 students per year predominantly on study programs. Jeff and I have known each other for about 20 years and we talked about the Australian university market, and what the outbound demand was.
I didn’t think there was a lot going on but as I dug a bit deeper, clearly there was a lot of interest from the Australian government and momentum building from the Australian universities as well. There were a number of factors which finally came together and there was a lot of momentum with outbound mobility, which is continuing now.
The PIE: So you uncovered significant interest in outbound mobility?
BD: The Colombo Plan has been a significant factor, which is supported with things like OS-HELP. This is the student overseas loan scheme from the Australian government, which allows student loans up to AUS$7500, and adds to the students’ HECS debt.
“About 10-15% of our business is international students studying abroad in Australia heading out again for another mobility experience, but for a shorter time”
From 1st January 2014, a number of shackles that limited access to OS-HELP to predominantly exchange programs came off that scheme, and now if the student goes on a mobility experience, is an Australian citizen, is getting academic credit from their host university, and a couple of other small parameters, they can access OS-HELP. Essentially funding (via OS-HELP) is widely available now and that really is a game-changer in Australia for outbound mobility.
The PIE: Are all of the students you’re dealing with in Higher Education or going to other institutions?
BD: Yes, our mission is to send Australian university students and to a lesser extent some international students studying in Australia, on study, intern and volunteer experiences in another country.
About 10-15% of our business is international students studying abroad in Australia heading out again for another mobility experience, but for a shorter time and they get academic credit for that. In 2014, just over 97% of our students received academic credit for their CIS overseas study, intern and volunteer programs.
The PIE: Is there anyone else doing what you’re doing?
BD: There are other organisations out there, but CIS has a different model in that it’s a very high service provision model. We’re very heavy on the support, pre, during and after the students program. For example we have staff (a Site Director) on location.
The PIE: Do you set up new programs according to where students want to go?
BD: We’re reacting now to student demands. We’re putting on new programs in Malaysia, and we have launched an internship in Thailand..
The PIE: What sort of trends are you seeing?
BD: Another part of our operation is called customised faculty-led. We’re the only one in Australia to really do customised faculty-led in a big way, so we’re seeing a lot of take up in that area.
“There is an absolute up-side to outbound mobility in the areas of employability, retention, higher grades, better engagement, increased rankings”
So faculty at any Australian university come to us to ask us to build the programs. The faculty focuses on the teaching and learning, and we manage all the logistics, the program design and on-the-ground booking.. We’re seeing a big demand in Asia right now, especially in China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.
The PIE: Do you have a lot of partners in the US?
BD: Jeff operated out of the US for about 16 years, but he was sending a lot of American students out, so he had no partners there. But he did have a lot of relationships, and we’re now sending students to UCLA, Boston University and Loyola in Chicago, and we’re looking at a few others too.
The PIE: And how popular is studying abroad among Australian university students?
BD: At the moment it’s about 14% of the Australian undergraduate graduating cohort going abroad, which is at similar levels with the US proportionately.
The PIE: What were you doing before this?
BD: I worked with Navitas, who had a partnership with Griffith University for about eight and a half years, as Director of Marketing Admissions. Before that I was Director, International at Bond University.
The PIE: Do you think there is going to be more public-private cohesion and collaboration in terms of encouraging internationalisation?
BD: I think so because a lot of universities see outbound mobility as a sort of financial drain rather than the upside of what it actually does. However, that is definitely changing in the really pro-active and progressive universities.
“A student who does a short-term program wants to re-engage with a long-term program, such as an internship”
But outbound mobility is becoming a part of the conversation for Australian universities – and what students want. It’s critically important for universities to understand that there is an absolute up-side to outbound mobility in the areas of employability, retention, higher grades, better engagement, increased rankings and all these things add up.
The PIE: What is the timeframe from demand to setting up a programme?
BD: We’ve got 63 programmes in 30 countries at the moment, which we run every year, and what we call off-the-shelf programmes. If a faculty comes to us and wants to do a customised faculty-led, we will need about six months notice. But off-the-shelf programmes about three or four months, from the application deadline to starting.
The PIE: What is your feedback like from the students?
BD: Every student does an evaluation online, and we have an evaluation call over the phone. Overwhelmingly the feedback has been fantastic. One of the big trends we’ve seen with short-term programs is that a student who does a short-term program wants to re-engage with a long-term program, such as an internship.
The PIE: What’s the percentage split between types of program that you offer?
BD: Probably about 20% are internships, which are professional and customised but unpaid. About 40% are experience and volunteering programs, such as environmental, conservation, teaching English language, community development, but are for academic credit.
The average timeframe for these programmes is about 4 weeks. Our philosophy is that anything less than four weeks and the cultural immersion is limited and relationship building is also limited.. But it’s a two-way street for volunteering. You give to the project and you get a lot out of it.
The other 40% will be studying, mostly between three and six weeks, doing one or two courses of study at a partner university (in January and July).
One challenge for students right now is the exchange rate. The A$ has declined approx. 20% in the last 4 months – great for inbound recruitment, but not so much for outbound mobility.