Australia rebounds in student recruitment race

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The international education destinations that flourished during the pandemic are imploding just as the “stars are aligning positively” for Australia, a conference has heard.

Neil Fitzroy, general manager of marketing and sales with global education chain Navitas, said Canada was experiencing the same sorts of “growing pains” that had once bedevilled Australia.

Meanwhile, political instability and the appointment of China sceptics to the Cabinet threatened to “take the wind out of the sails” in Britain. But improved visa processing and a change of rhetoric from Canberra had infused the Australian sector with “confidence and goodwill”.

“It’s a significant turnaround even from six weeks ago,” Mr Fitzroy told the Australian International Education Conference. “[I see] the potential to not just win back pre-Covid market share, but to take market share from other destinations.”

In Britain, former home secretary Suella Braverman caused consternation in international education circles by bemoaning the number of relatives students were bringing into the country. Her department subsequently initiated an analysis of student dependent volumes as part of a broader migration review

Ms Braverman also drew fire for reportedly complaining that “too many” overseas students were entering the country and propping up “substandard courses in inadequate institutions”.

In Canada, investigative television programme The Fifth Estate broadcast a litany of damning allegations against private colleges, one of which was found to have enrolled more than 10 times as many international students as its registration permitted.

Education agents were accused of routinely lying to students and their parents about work and migration opportunities in Ontario.

Average visa-processing times in Canada are reported to have blown out to at least three months, and some residents in the relatively small university towns where public campuses are often located are bristling at what they see as a surfeit of foreign students.

Mr Fitzroy said that with a television exposé, social licence issues and questions around regulation, Canada was treading a path pioneered by its southern competitor. “I’ve seen this script before, and I sense that Canada will go through some of the challenges that Australia has been through.”

Canada and the UK were the international education success stories of the pandemic, with surveys of agents and students putting them well ahead of the US, New Zealand and Australia. But an August survey of more than 11,000 mostly prospective students, conducted by conference co-host IDP, found that Australia had leapfrogged Britain in popularity and was closing in on Canada.

The conference heard that surveys of agents in greater China had found that Australia now rated ahead of its competitor destinations on visa costs and processing times, and second only to the UK on transparency and acceptance rates. In South Asia, agents reported more upbeat perceptions of Australia than the other countries.

But the conference heard it was unclear how many “new” students in Australia were in fact people belatedly applying for visas after beginning their courses remotely from home.

Mr Fitzroy also warned that some Australian policy settings, particularly the removal of the limit on foreign students’ working hours, could have a “sting in the tail”. He said Australia must strive to “maximise the genuine students and the positive outcomes, whilst reducing our risk of needing to very rapidly change those settings”.

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