Why I am still committed to international education in Australia

19 March 2021
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Posted by Emma Lancaster

Australia - a welcoming home to international students from across the world

Last year, Study Group marked its 25th anniversary. We had made exciting plans of how to celebrate together in style, and were hoping to host events with speakers invited to reflect on the future of international education across the world. One of the places we wanted to do that was where we started, in Sydney, Australia.

Australia has always been important to Study Group - one of the key anglophone study destinations known for its combination of excellent universities and easy-going lifestyle. Our first partner was the prestigious University of Sydney, a welcoming home to international students from across the world, in a city also known for its vibrant multicultural feel.

Over the years as our global business grew, we added partners in New Zealand, the UK, Holland, Ireland and North America. But we always kept a strong sense of roots in our Australian business.

Over that time, naturally our business has changed and developed along the way. We have largely focused on pathways to undergraduate and postgraduate study, preparing students to graduate from leading universities with a great education and to go on to excellent careers at home or around the world. That has meant helping those students adjust to a new culture, as well as a new language and system of education, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Our students have thrived, and with them so have the universities, communities and economies that welcomed them.

Our 25 years also saw some challenges, none greater than the last year in which international students had their face-to-face teaching suspended with little warning and then many returned home to study mainly online.

For our teachers offering support to students in their student accommodation or across the world via zoom, the professional challenge was enormous and exhausting but they rose to it. Our in-house EdTech specialists found themselves working around the clock to advise and support, but students always came first.

None of us would have chosen to become digitally agile this way but we all learned in the process. Student satisfaction - remarkably - remained high and we even learned some lessons about online preparation and language teaching we will want to keep once COVID-19 restrictions are a distant memory.

Acting in Australia's interests

We’ve seen political cycles too. A few years ago our UK business worried about a hostile environment for international students and the loss of post-study work rights, envious of the attractiveness and welcome of Australia. Then American universities felt concerned about the America First narrative of Donald Trump.

Now it is Australia’s time of challenge as it tries to address a combination of COVID-19 restrictions, foreign policy tensions and concerns about the domestic focus of universities. The global headlines lately have been far from ideal for the sector:

  • Australia education sector struggles to bring international students back says The Times of India.
  • Australia to stay closed to international students for now.
  • Fortress Australia needs to open its doors to international students.
  • Australian cities see a significant drop in international students.

There are even occasional but distressing stories about student hardship and rare but worrying incidences of harassment. This isn’t a good image of the welcoming Australia we know and love.

So once again we need to make the international case we know to be true - that there is no contradiction between the local interests of a city and a region and a welcoming stance towards international students. Study Group is ready to play our part in that important effort.

Indeed, international students make up just over a quarter of the total student population, their fees subsidising the universities and facilities enjoyed by all students. Investment in their education and spending on accommodation, food and leisure boosts the economy and creates local jobs.

Australia’s global competition

In the UK, a recognition of the contribution of international students to the economy and vital areas of skills shortage led the British government to introduce a raft of more welcoming policies, along with a cross-department International Strategy committed to increasing investment to £35 billion per year by 2030. The goal is to increase the number of international higher education students hosted in the UK to 600,000 per year.

In Australia, the same principle also applies and that’s why the higher education sector and states are talking to the national government about how Australia can move positively beyond COVID-19 and send a strong competitive message to the world that the country is open for business. Australia can also benefit from an injection of overseas fees which keeps its universities world-leading and its science and innovation at the cutting edge if it gets this right.

After COVID-19, the world is going to face numerous challenges. How can we create a sustainable economy capable of providing a job for our children and a healthy planet for our grandchildren? Education has a vital role to play in answering those questions and talented and brilliant young people from across the world are keen to travel to study and find the answers.

Australia will also face big questions about its own future. What will keep it prosperous and attractive to its own young people and to investors from overseas? How will it navigate its way in a changing geo-political context?

Welcoming the skills and investment of international students just makes sense. It will help build a stronger Australia and a better world. That’s why Study Group continues to have confidence in and remains committed to Australia in good times and bad. We continue to see Study Group Australia as a vital part of our global business, built on the strengths of our staff and partnerships.

Together with our wonderful students who have made Australia home over the last two and a half decades, we believe Australia has an important future as a home of international education. We are pleased to play our part in the post COVID-19 rebuild and join in with the effort to ensure Australia’s reputation as a home of quality education can help cities and a nation get back on its feet after a brutal pandemic, ‘Advance Australia Fair.’

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