Foreign students warm to Australia over UK, US

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Australia’s popularity has rebounded in the competitive world of international education, with the country now on the shortlist of every second mobile student and the preferred destination for every fourth.

Research by global education services company IDP suggests that Australia has surged past the UK and US as an attractive international education destination, and is closing in on frontrunner Canada.

The survey of more than 11,000 mostly prospective students, conducted in July and August by the company’s IDP Connect recruitment arm, found that Australia was under consideration by 49 per cent of respondents – up from 45 per cent in a similar survey five months earlier.

It was destination of choice for 25 per cent of respondents, up from 20 per cent in March. Canada retained bragging rights as first-choice destination of 27 per cent of respondents, the same figure it had attracted in the previous survey. Twenty per cent nominated the UK, with 18 per cent opting for the US and 3 per cent New Zealand.

“Australia is now in a clear second position as first-choice destination,” said IDP Connect’s client director, Andrew Wharton. “It’s the clear leader in Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Vietnam.”

But it ranks further down the list in its biggest markets, with just 11 per cent of respondents from China choosing Australia as their preferred destination, while 20 per cent named the US and 23 per cent the UK. And just 14 per cent of Indians said Australia was their first choice, compared to 20 per cent for the UK, 21 per cent for the US and 41 per cent for Canada.

Mr Wharton said these results reflected Indian students’ doubts about graduate employment outcomes down under, while Chinese respondents were wary of the quality of education and the welcome they could expect in Australia.

The survey quizzed people considering or already undertaking courses, mostly at postgraduate or undergraduate level. It attracted responses from 94 countries, including 29 per cent from India and 12 per cent from China. Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines also featured predominantly.

The results have been released as a curtain-raiser to the Australian International Education Conference, which is being co-hosted by IDP on Queensland’s Gold Coast. The survey revealed a clear preference for physical mobility, with almost two-thirds of respondents saying they had no interest in fully remote study.

But three-quarters were amenable to online learning within the host countries, so long as it was combined with face-to-face study. Fully on-campus learning proved by far the most popular delivery mode, attracting interest from 96 per cent of respondents.

“Clearly, the strong demand is for on-campus overseas study,” said IDP Connect chief executive Simon Emmett. “We’ve seen that in the UK. We’ve seen it in Canada. We’re now seeing it in Australia as well. Prospective students are very determined to experience life in foreign countries.”

He said the international education landscape was more competitive than ever. “All of the leading destinations have attractive initiatives for international students in a way they’ve never really had before. Pathways to migration have clearly been very attractive in Canada. Likewise, for the UK, the introduction of the graduate route post-study work policies and visa changes have been very attractive.”

The survey also asked students who had started courses this year, including some 900 in Australia, about their experiences so far. Mr Wharton said the vast majority had declared themselves “very satisfied”, particularly around academic support and lifestyle. But 22 per cent had said their “expectations for financial support” had not been met. “The thing I’m reading into that is that it’s more expensive than they were anticipating,” he said.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com



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