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International education in Australia – soft power and solid results

Hon Phil Honeywood, CEO International Education Association of Australia and New Colombo Plan Reference Group member

International education has very much flown under the radar as an industry sector. Most Australians have little idea that it now contributes $22 billion annually to the national economy. Far more than its financial inputs, this is a sector that is using soft power to actively engage Australia with its Indo-Pacific neighbours.

Yuan and Richard ina vineyard
Richard Dolan, General Manager of Wines By Geoff Hardy and Export Manager Yuan Yuan.

Recently the USA, with a population of 325 million people, achieved one million international student enrolments across its higher education institutions. Australia, with a population of only 24 million, is predicted to surpass its one million enrolment goal by 2025. Within our current 554 000 overseas student cohort, Chinese students comprise 28 per cent and Indians 11 per cent. However, in recent years there has been substantial growth from Colombia, Brazil, Nepal and Malaysia. Having a diversity of student source countries will be crucial to the success of this dynamic sector going forward.

While overseas students and their families place a strong emphasis on the quality of Australia's education institutions, there are many other factors that determine where they will choose to study abroad. Safe, affordable accommodation, a welcoming culturally diverse local community and even ready access to their country of origin's cuisine are all key factors.

Increasingly, course related employability opportunities are also a primary enrolment motivator. Australia provides international students with the opportunity to undertake 20 hours per week of paid employment while they are studying. If they graduate with a bachelor degree, they can then stay and work full time in the local economy for two years before returning home.

There are some exciting examples of where international students are making strong contributions to the success of Australian businesses. An Adelaide based winery, Wines by Geoff Hardy, employed Chinese marketing student Yuan Yuan as an intern while she was completing her degree at the University of Adelaide. Yuan was able to open the Chinese market for the company. As a result they are now selling large quantities of premium wine into this market and she is employed as a full-time marketing manager.

There are many other aspects to Australia's international education industry. Our education and training providers are currently teaching over 110 000 students offshore. Many of these providers are actively assisting our neighbours with their workforce capacity building requirements.

Importantly, through Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's determined efforts, we are now supporting 17 500 young Australian undergraduates to study, work and live in the Indo-Pacific through Federal Government New Colombo Plan scholarships and student mobility grants. Business is central to offering students meaningful, course-related work experiences to complement their formal studies. The New Colombo Plan works closely with the private sector to identify and provide its students with diverse work-based learning opportunities.

International education is serving Australia well as both an innovative contributor to our economy and a great catalyst for better integrating our nation into the global community.

Last Updated: 7 August 2017
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