Australian International Education Conference October 2019 – a summary by Fiona Reay, Development Partnership Lead at FutureLearn
Alongside many of our Australian partners, FutureLearn spoke at Australia’s largest international education conference #AIEC to learn more about the country’s second largest export worth A$32.4 billion – including 400,000 student enrolments onshore and 26,000 offshore studying Australian education products. Here, Fiona Reay, Partnership Development Lead, unpacks the top talks that sparked discussion around championing global experiences, student recruitment, new growth markets including Vietnam, and the inclusion of international students.
Kim Beazley, Governor of Western Australia, former Deputy Prime Minister and Ambassador to the USA provided a lens that spans geo-political borders to the audience of international education professionals – a quarter visiting from overseas. He noted that great political leaders also possess an uncommon administration capability alongside the better known “vision-setting” piece, and he compared those in politics with their sense of isolation and wariness as rather in step with those in teaching.
Beazley encouraged Australia to further develop its “soft powers” in education, research and collaboration alongside its status of being an energy and mining super power, and referenced the Scandanavian countries investments (60% of GDP and more) in public sector programmes to improve their societies in the longer term.
He also encouraged those in Australian education to reinvigorate a deeper involvement of community in welcoming international students – as English language skills and a better understanding of society (including tolerance) are really built amongst community conversation. He lamented the days of Australia’s Colombo Plan which fostered exchange students and scholarships amongst Asia and the Pacific, and encouraged further uptake of the New Colombo plan which has expanded to mentorship and internships for Australian students to develop overseas. One in five domestic Australian students now experience a learning abroad experience.
Greta Thunberg, microcredentialing and transferable skills featured heavily on a multi-sector panel discussion thinking 10-50 years from now. Janelle Chapman, Executive Director of TAFE Queensland, Matt Durnin, Regional Head of Research East Asia at the British Council, Fiona Reay, Partnership Development Lead at FutureLearn and Howard Errey, Education Developer at RMIT, provided their perspectives after hearing from Karen Welsh, Branch Manager of the Department of Education, who shared the latest developments on the Australian Commonwealth Government’s strategy for transnational education strategy, due for release in 2020. Australian education institutions are needing to refocus and transform transnational education to meet ever-changing and increasing demand from students, technology, governments, markets and industry, both locally and internationally.
Mobile-first and flexible, stackable learning were seen as musts in a hyper-connected world where students may not want to physically travel for international experiences, valuing their environmental impact alongside their goals to be a more global citizen. Learning relevant and timely on-the-job skills, being strongly linked to tangible employment outcomes, were also crucial factors. The “love of learning” purely for fascination and academic pursuit may fade away in a competitive, resource-depleted world where employers can hire talent from virtual marketplaces and choose the most cost-effective bid.
The panel also debated education as a potential “luxury product” versus being a fundamental human right. The audience asked about ways to take their products to market and how to convince students of the future that their education offering is worth the financial and time investment in a world where digital bootcamps, design sprints and more democratised access to information through 5G internet will allow their customers to learn for free in a flexible environment. A “try before they buy” model of using “taster courses” and “information evening” experiences is already in market for new entrants to the education space who are already disrupting the traditional bricks and mortar model of higher education delivery.
Rebecca Hall, Senior Industry Specialist at Austrade, chaired a session on unleashing the growth potential of Australia’s regional universities in attracting international students. The education sector needs to diversify its ecosystem more broadly from the current trend of students seeking overpopulated Australian urban centres, and more broadly governments need to manage wider population decline in regional areas.
Rob Lawrence from Prospect Research and Marketing asked the question “do we need regional?” in marketing Australian education and concluded while the sector may need it for policy, frameworks and domestic funding – it doesn’t need to be used to students. Regional universities need to market themselves standing consistently behind an overall “brand of Australia” which resonates overseas with its reputation around landscapes and environment. Customer behaviour on location choice still seems to be weighted more to family connection, with students choosing to locate to where they have a sibling or other family connection. Course choice and the relevant employment pathway is increasingly becoming more prominent as the main influencer in decision-making as the Australian international education market matures.
Greg Slatcher, Director of International Marketing and Recruitment at Deakin University, spoke of the drive to create a more internationally attractive Warrnambool Campus in regional Victoria (outside of the metropolis of Melbourne city) and their tactics around subsidising accommodation costs, creating meaningful social connections on campus and providing work experience opportunities in local industries as the key drawcards to grow regional student hubs.
RMIT University spoke of their journey setting up local campuses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and the global experiences this creates for their students around the world, sharing with the audience an insight into the market dynamics of a fast-growing market that remains somewhat under the radar of many. Australia trails behind the UK, France and the US (on par with Taiwan) for international suppliers of education in Vietnam, who have set a strategic view to enhance foreign investment in their education sector. Vietnam aimed to set up a group of five universities of excellence by 2020, and has built partnerships with German, Japanese, Taiwanese and British universities. There is a mix of government, private and foreignly owned operators, with various western institutions offering branches and joint centres with local educators to bring in an international perspective. Vietnam does not cap student enrolments in foreign universities onshore, though demands 50% of academic staff to be of PhD level.
There is further growth potential in the vocational education and secondary schools sector, although it remains early days and higher education for adults remains the priority for transnational education offerings. The challenges in Vietnamese education are similar to those experienced elsewhere in early higher education markets, including the regulation of online learning, attracting foreign investment, competition, quality assurance and equitable access.
The Australian international education sector remains very reliant on recruitment agents who provide 75% of onshore enrolments. It needs to think more broadly about marketing a wider variety of its education portfolio and build up its product suite through the lifelong learning cycle through professional development (and even preparation for retirement!) to be export ready. Younger “digital native” populations will demand their presence in online and mobile channels, and not think so strictly about barriers of language and borders.