Renowned Australian industry commentator Rob Lawrence has spoken of the forced reset to business as usual occuring in the Australian international education sector – and the ongoing need to “futureproof” the international student experience.
In a recent webinar, Lawrence – principal of Prospect Research and Marketing – mentioned that Rotary across Australia is going to work with international students and provide support to them, to enhance the “social licence” for international education in the country.
But he urged for greater attention on the broader international education sector beyond HE, and further work to ensure international graduates are job-ready.
“[The Covid pressure] has been an important reset — it’s forced us to look at who we are,” he emphasised at a webinar hosted by M Square Media.
Lawrence said that going forward things were likely to be “better managed”; “more considered”; and the sector to be “steadier”.
Neil Fitzroy, General Manager Marketing and Sales, University Partnerships Australasia, Navitas pointed out that the sector in Australia was in fact not in a “nice and stable environment” just as COVID hit.
He said that towards the end of 2019, there were already some visible trends such as the reduction in the number of students from China and a “greater concentration of Chinese students in a smaller number of institutions”.
“The Covid pressure forced us to look at who we are”
Secondly, the “reemergence of the UK as a viable competitor” particularly in terms of migration and post study work opportunities was already affecting market norms.
Australia had been afflicted by longer border closures in comparison to other competitor countries, but also by “negative messaging” and “false starts”. Some of the many of the pilot schemes to bring students back ended up causing “disappointment”, he said.
But despite the setbacks, Navitas is seeing interest come back to “destination Australia”, Fitzroy asserted. The company is seeing “agents re-engage and pivot back”, as well as institutions realign their student focus.
It was important to “get back to the basics”, he added, important to give a “strong compelling proposition of why Australia” and “why [a particular] institution” should be the choice of future students.
Lawrence agreed. Responding to a question by host Victoria Heron on strategic priorities for universities at the moment, Lawrence said that he was observing that the emphasis on the “growth imperative” was “receding”.
“Institutions want it to be more manageable, more cohesive, and less reliant on specific markets,” he said.
He noted that all of Australia’s competitors had their own unique propositions and that played a big role in student decision making.
Australia needed to strengthen its “core proposition” of being a really good country to be educated in — “because Australia is, by every measure..,” he emphasised.
He said that going forward, universities needed “better reach and better depth” and needed to be “more sustainable”.
He said that most importantly they needed to “redefine and rework” what is actually meant by student experience. Further, universities needed more “structured and coordinated global engagement.”
Wider emphasis also needed to be put in VET, ELICOS, pathways, and high schools, Lawrence counselled, as the international education sector basket was “much broader” than just higher education.
“It is impossible for the curriculum to keep up, given the rapid pace of change in new technologies and new industries”
He added that the focus needed to be on making the student experience better and in helping students feel “valued and supported” throughout their journeys, as well as making student employability more “intrinsic to the value addition we are providing to students.”
“It is impossible for the curriculum to keep up, given the rapid pace of change in new technologies and new industries”, Lawrence posited.
In addition to teaching students, it was important to build their “skill-sets” to get them ready for the job market.
Finally, he urged industry and employers in the country should have a “better understanding” around post-study work rights for international students — something that was mostly absent, he claimed.
“[International students] are an incredible source of talent” and could “help address many of the gaps” in Australia’s skills shortages going forward, he urged.
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