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Growth in education exports might be slowing but it’s still Australia’s fourth largest export industry.

Rebecca Spicer takes a look at this competitive international market and how Australian institutions are responding.

Active ImageEducation exports are worth an estimated $7.5 billion to the Australian economy, and while the industry is seeing slow growth now, Australian education has made a big impression on the international market in recent years. And the rewards aren’t just economical, the cultural and political benefits in exporting education are also considerable.

Agreements about educational exchange are an important element of Australia’s foreign relations policies with countries such as China, India, and Indonesia, and exporting education has also played a major role in forging links with other countries. “International education plays an important role in supporting government policies which seek to position Australia as a strategic partner in the economic development and security of our region,” says a statement from the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). “The internationalisation of education also offers a wide range of benefits to Australia and other countries in intellectual, social and cultural development.”

Asia is Australia’s most important regional market for education exports, with Australia’s top eight markets in terms of international student spending, from Asia. In 2005 there were 344,815 overseas students enrolled in 1,024 Australian education institutions. The largest group of overseas students were from China (23.5 percent) and India (eight percent). However, export markets showing strong growth in 2005 also included Brazil, Germany, Canada and the Middle East.

International Education Services

According to DEST, demand for international education services globally will exceed supply this year, but growth in international education globally is slowing. “Many countries are now emerging as strong competitors, and countries that are traditionally providers of international students, such as Malaysia and Singapore, are becoming increasingly popular as potential study destinations.”

Jennifer Lang, executive director of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) International, agrees. “After 15 years of pretty significant growth, we peaked in 2002, then plateaued and a number of universities this year are reporting a downturn of anywhere between one to ten percent,” she says.

Active ImageThis could be due to a small impact from Australia’s visa regulations, Lang says, as well as our rising dollar over the last two years. But a key contributor, she believes, is increasing competition from countries such as China, Malaysia, Singapore, and India.

In order to be competitive in the global market, Australian education institutions are increasingly offering services offshore. DEST estimates the number of offshore students now comprise one in every four international students enrolled in the Australian education and training system.

In response to this trend, UNSW will open their first offshore campus, UNSW Asia, in Singapore in 2007. “We’re noticing the competition now and that’s why we decided to set up UNSW Asia, to ensure we’re an integral part of the Asian region and can continue to enjoy a very high profile in the region through that campus,” Lang says.

While a number of universities have already gone offshore, she adds, most have done so by offering niche programs. “We’re the first university to go abroad to establish a full comprehensive teaching and research university, offering programs across a broad spectrum of areas including science, engineering, technology, design, humanities and commerce.”

The long-term strategy is simple, she says. “We want to be one of the four or five in an emerging category of global universities to ensure we retain a strong profile, so we develop a bigger footprint for our university that then takes us into the northern hemisphere.”

Lang also thinks the reputation of Australian education internationally is a great selling point. “I believe we offer a high quality, flexible system of education that is pretty well recognised around the world. Particularly in professional areas like engineering and law, medicine, science, architecture, and accountancy, our qualifications are world-recognised.

“Given the size of our population, we’ve done very well to punch above our weight with regard to research and innovation. We offer a safe, harmonious, welcoming, learning environment that has always been open to ideas from the rest of the world.”

Active ImageAccording to DEST, Australia’s free trade agreements (FTAs) will help stimulate our education exports. “The FTAs negotiated to date have assisted the development of Australian education internationally, through providing opportunities or addressing some of the challenges that have been experienced by Australian education providers.”

Thanks to the Singapore FTA, for example, scholarships provided by the Singapore government are now tenable at Australian universities, which should see more students studying with Australian providers. And under our FTA with the United States, an agreement was reached that the US will provide non-discriminatory treatment to Australian education providers across all education and training sectors.

Forming bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements with partner universities, or other overseas organisations, is an activity undertaken by most education institutions. UNSW, for example, has relationships with 200 sister universities around the world, which Lang says benefits the university in a number of ways. “We send and receive students from those universities for one or two semesters, and under the umbrella of those agreements we also engage in strategic research collaboration.”

The Federal government also has initiatives aimed at growing Australia’s education exports. Australian Education International (AEI) is the international arm of DEST and is responsible for supporting Australian education exporters, and helps promote the industry. AEI conducts market research on aspects of education, science and training in the relevant country, can suggest suitable organisations to visit, provide advice on the authenticity and status of an institution overseas, organise offshore seminars and workshops for Australian institutions, and operates Australian Education Centres in 11 overseas locations to showcase Australian education and training. AEI and Austrade also actively participate in international education exhibitions, in which Australian institutions can participate.

Transnational Education

Despite competition and slow growth, Lang believes the Australian education industry is still in good shape and has shown the rest of the world how to effectively export education. “We’re a Active Imagevictim of our own success,” she says. “In a way we were too successful and now everybody wants a slice of that action.

“At the moment we’re re-grouping, and one area where we’re really starting to emerge is in trans
national education. And once again, I think Australia is up there with the universities from the UK and other countries leading the way, but we do need good support from government.”

In light of the growing importance of transnational education and training, a Transnational Quality Strategy (TQS) has been developed by DEST to protect the quality and integrity of Australian education and training delivered offshore. The TQS encompasses higher education, vocational and technical education, and schools. It is also able to accommodate English language courses and foundation programs, which aim to equip students with the skills and capabilities to enter the tertiary sector.

Looking ahead, DEST believes increased competition from more countries offering international education and training opportunities, together with increased investment in education infrastructure in many countries, will lead to a more complex market requiring Australian providers to be more innovative in their approach. “Rapid advancements in information technology will create both opportunities and challenges for institutions and students as the world’s labour force becomes more mobile and is seeking internationally transferable skills and qualifications,” states DEST.

Collaboration is likely to be the name of the game in the future as the education industry invests even more effort in providing offshore services.

Collaborative Education Exports Case Study

Active ImageCollaboration is benefiting not only education institutions, but also the entire economics of our regions.

The Ipswich study region in south Queensland—better known as the Green Corner—is an education cluster contributing to the collaborative success of the state’s education exports, which have doubled to $1.031 billion in the last four years.

“The Green Corner has come together in the last couple of years because a number of institutions in Ipswich are actively involved in attracting international students to the city, and it was felt this could be a way to bring their activities together into a common agenda,” explains Alan Rix, chairman of the cluster and campus pro vice chancellor of the University of Queensland, Ipswich. “I guess a more important element was the need to promote Ipswich and the region as a destination because it’s a good place to live. We have a number of old and large schools here and we now have a university campus, so it seemed to us a logical place for students to come and do both secondary and tertiary education.”

The Green Corner is now made up of 15 member institutions that work collaboratively to promote Ipswich as a region and apply for government funding. “It gives us a common promotional site which is our website, and it helps us pool resources and advance the objectives in an integrated way,” Rix says. “We were all doing similar things but in a sense we weren’t talking to one another, and this enables us to do that.”

Rix estimates there are 300 international students currently studying in the Ipswich region, which he believes is extremely beneficial to the local institutions. “It provides students already in the school with an international contact,” says Rix. “There are private boarding schools here that have had international students for a while. Ipswich Grammar School have had rugby union stars from Papua New Guinea for many years, so it’s an integral part of that school’s culture.”

Rix says it also helps boost tourism in the area. “The kids come, they pay fees, the parents come, they stay here and when students have graduated they often come back again.”

The Green Corner is able to promote the region through its website and promotional videos, and the cluster travels to a range of offshore promotional markets, attending education exhibitions, to get the Ipswich word out.

The cluster is partly self-funded and receives support from the state government through Queensland Education and Training International. Rix says it’s much easier to secure funding for a group of institutions than individually. “The government likes to see this done in collaboration. One school can do so much, but a group of schools working together can do a lot more.”

South Australia

A similar effort is witnessed in South Australia with the recent launch of a global advertising campaign by Education Adelaide, to position Adelaide as a premier education destination.

The ad campaign is jointly supported by the state government, Adelaide City Council, Adelaide’s universities and other education bodies, and is initially being run in China and Vietnam to capitalise on these growing markets.

Further Education Minister, Steph Key, says the new campaign will help boost the industry, which is already worth $339 million to the state. “Adelaide attracted almost 18,000 international students last year. Not only are the students greatly adding to the cultural fabric of our state, the industry pays real dividends, now accounting for 2,500 local jobs.”

Education Adelaide has also formed a strategic partnership with StudyLink, a popular international education website, which is used by more than two million prospective students, in 130 countries every year in their search for overseas courses.

Through these initiatives, the South Australian government has a strategic plan to double the state’s share of the national overseas student market by 2013.

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