The Australian education sector is at a crossroads to maintain its place in the global marketplace

Zarana Patel never believed that her decision to study in Australia could constitute a seven-year struggle.

The 26-year-old came from Australia to India as an international student in 2014 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting three years ago.

Patel said that although he was happy with the training, he has had difficulty finding a job because of his visa status and lack of work experience.

“International students are working hard, we have gained knowledge and skills [from university] and yet you will be rejected just because you are not a permanent resident or citizen here, ”he told The Business.

“Whatever I have to do to meet all the requirements, I have done it, but since the government is making strict rules on permanent housing here, I see no hope.”

Patel said he didn’t feel valued in Australia, so he decided to pack up the goods and move to Canada for graduate study and a better future.

A study by IDP Connect shows that more and more international students are choosing Canada, the UK and the US to study instead of Australia.

The chart shows study trends

Australia’s share of global demand has fallen from 17 per cent to 12 per cent in the last two years.

In the Indian market, Australia’s market share more than halved, from 20% to 9% over the same period.

Of the 3,650 respondents in 55 countries, 39 per cent of students chose Canada as their primary destination, followed by the United States and the United Kingdom (both 17 per cent) and Australia 16 per cent.

Nearly half of the students who responded to the survey had seen Australia as an option, which was on a par with the UK but clearly lagged behind 69 per cent in Canada.

The study found that incentives for migration, employment opportunities, and on-campus study were strong factors in student decision-making.

Students are looking for opportunities elsewhere

Like Patel, many international students arrived in Australia not only because of the quality of its education system, but also because of possible migration routes.

The woman has a pink Mug in the kitchen.
Zarana Patel says she regretted coming to Australia to study.(ABC News: John Gunn)

When the country closed its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 150,000 international students are stuck abroad.

Many students studying in the country experienced a pinch when they lost state aid but lost their jobs and could not return home.

International travel out of the reach of Australian international students

While studying, Patel had to work in a number of different jobs in West Sydney to earn a living by paying tuition fees and the high cost of applying for a permanent residence permit, including English exams, which cost him a total of $ 8,000.

“The education system is really good in both Australia and Canada. But the thing is, after studying, the chances are really lower, I would say, in Australia than in Canada.”

He said many of his cohorts have changed their minds and are heading to countries with open borders, face-to-face categories and less restrictive immigration policies.

According to recent data from the Ministry of Education, international student numbers have fallen 17 percent this year.

Uncertainty about Australia ‘s global position

That is a worrying trend for training agent Vaibhav Patel.

A man in a suit stands at the reception.
Vaibhav Patel says international students are moving to countries where student visa policy and immigration policy are welcome.(ABC News: John Gunn)

He heads an education office in Sydney that recruits international students, especially from South Asia.

His business is based on international students, and the number of foreign recruitments has fallen by 80 percent since the outbreak of COVID.

“I think there was a time before the pandemic, when Australia was one of the best countries in terms of recruiting international students, but now that choice is changing,” he told ABC.

Universities Australia, the top body in the higher education sector, believes Australia has not lost its appeal, but says it needs to act quickly in the coming months to maintain its market position.

“I think it would be a mistake to say, in any sense, that Australia has been forced because international students have stayed well,” CEO Catriona Jackson told ABC.

A woman wearing a red face mask standing in the office.
Catriona Jackson says the industry is “tough and sustainable.”(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

“Other countries have reacted very intelligently, they have relaxed some labor law criteria, their borders have been open.

“If we don’t keep up, if we don’t get students back on scale in the first semester next year, we’ll have a really hard time maintaining our position.”

The first batch that returned after a long wait

Patel said it is understandable why some students decided to leave or change course.

“It’s very frustrating because you really can’t give your client clear advice on what’s going on because practices are constantly changing according to the epidemics in the country,” he said.

“It was really hard for us to convince our clients that we were doing something for you, but then nothing is under our control.”

Over the past year, there have been requests for an exemption from the travel ban for international students. Some have given up their hopes of returning, others have graduated without ever stepping on campus.

That will change soon.

New South Wales and Victoria have promised to bring international students back through pilot programs starting next month.

Up to 250 students are allowed to attend NSW every other week beginning December 6 and 120 students every week in Victoria after the same month.

Both states do not require international students to be quarantined if they are fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved vaccine.

A South Australian government spokesman told ABC that the state would welcome international students back when it achieves its 90 per cent fully vaccinated target.

“We will continue to work with the federal government to find ways for international students to return to South Australia as quickly and safely as possible,” the spokesman said.

Regional universities suffer the most

The return on international education has been an important part of the higher education system for more than three decades.

University students walk through campus
The lack of international students has a wider impact on the economy.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

Two-thirds of the income of some universities comes from international students.

Australian universities said the industry was expected to report $ 2 billion in revenue loss this year, up $ 1.8 billion from last year.

While some metropolitan universities have been stable in international enrollment, regional universities have suffered the most.

“In 2019, the international premium income of international students was in the $ 170 million range; we expect barely $ 80 million this year,” Alex Frino, deputy vice chancellor of the University of Wollongong, told ABC.

“Our story is very similar to most other regional universities, which are likely to have lost about 40 to 50 percent of their international students.”

A man in a suit wearing a red tie and talking outdoors.
Alex Frino says international students are vital to Australian universities and the local economy. (ABC News: John Gunn)

In contrast, enrollment of international students at Group of Eight (Go8) institutions, including the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia, fell by only about one per cent.

Frino said tuition discounts and brand awareness are influential factors.

“We always do really well by recruiting face-to-face and recruiting people in the industry, and Go8 doesn’t have to do it or we haven’t done it historically,” he said.

“The fact that our recruitment teams have not been able to enter the offshore market during the pandemic has been a significant factor, and again it is quite similar to other regional universities.”

A glimmer of hope for 2022

As Australia’s international borders begin to reopen, universities and education officials say they are optimistic about the 2022 school year and eager to return to the recruitment industry.

“[International students] to create global connections with us [local] students who are vital to their future careers, and they are also contributing a lot to the local economy. “

Thanks to the high vaccination rate and the currently managed COVID situation, some students have been able to enjoy a normal moment on campus.

A woman on campus smiles at the camera.
Po Yan Wong, a student at Charle Darwin University, says she is lucky enough to study in Australia.(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

“I have all the classes face to face, and of course I can opt for a network connection,” Hong Kong international student Po Yan Wang, who arrived in northern territory late last year on his first map flight, told ABC.

“I like networking and I also get the opportunity to participate in events organized by the university.

It gives a glimmer of hope to many students.

Watch the story on The Business at 8:45 p.m. on the AEDT ABC News Channel or the streaming ABC iview channel.

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