words by kate mcintosh
The opportunity to live and work in Australia after graduation is an attractive prospect for international students when choosing where to study.
The established links between studying in Australia and migration remain an effective marketing tool for in-country recruiters, according to Council of International Students Australia (CISA) spokesperson Arjun Madathil.
Although those opportunities are sometimes overstated in the recruitment process, he said many international students do opt to study in Australia, believing it will give them an advantage professionally and ultimately lead to migration.
“They get more opportunities in terms of meeting people, potentially finding a sponsor, getting a job and establishing those networks and so many students do consider that that is a very important factor,” he said.
But Sophia Arkoudis, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, said while residency was a consideration for some students, a number of other factors also came into play, including course choices, the reputation of the institution, personal safety, affordability and parental influence. “If you look at the universities, it’s about the courses on offer and the opportunities it affords, both within the university and beyond,” she said.
“There’s a lot of variability in that, including safety, close proximity (to source countries) and the benefits of being able to be in an English-speaking country.”
Despite shifts in Australia’s immigration policy, Professor Arkoudis said international student numbers
were continuing to increase. Likewise, student enrolment figures for ELICOS – an English language training program that feeds into higher education pathways – are also growing. The international education sector is Australia’s third largest export industry, behind iron ore and coal,
generating $22.4 billion in 2016.
Arkoudis said the high-quality education and standard of living in Australia was helping drive the international student market. “Australia has actually done a great job attracting international students,” she said.
“It’s about the whole experience they’re (students) getting. If you look at Melbourne, Melbourne is marketed as a destination, as a city and a place to live.” ISANA International Education Association national president Mary Ann Seow that although there was a clear linkage between graduate aspirations, migration and where students tend to study, Australia also offered other attractive selling points. “It is a factor, but it’s not the number one marker,” she said.
“What makes Australia appealing is it’s the package deal; it’s the quality of the education they’re getting. Our universities are ranked very highly and that’s number one on the checklist.”
Australia is the world’s third most popular destination to study for international students in tertiary education, behind the US and the UK.
However, Madathil said there was potential for Australia to make further gains in the sector following changes to post-study work arrangements for foreign students in both those countries.
In Australia, international graduates are currently able to apply for a visa allowing them to work for between two and four years, depending on their eligibility and level of qualification.
Seow said that is very appealing for students trying to get a leg up in the job market.
“Not all students want to stay forever, but what they do want is that foreign work experience, and that is attractive,” she said.
In addition to growing Australia’s skilled workforce, a 2016 report by Deloitte Access Economics commissioned by the federal government also found that post-study work opportunities and migration pathways open to graduates played an important role in attracting students to Australia and boosting export income.
However, Professor Arkoudis said that aligning educational outcomes with residency was narrow in focus and fed into negative perceptions within Australian society that foreign graduates are taking jobs and also overlooks the fact that many return home or go onto third countries once they complete their studies. Going forward, she said more needed to be done at a local level to ease the transition for international students in terms of establishing support networks and addressing issues around accommodation and employment.
In 2016 the Federal Government released its first national strategy for international education, a 10-year blueprint aimed at securing growth in the sector, with a focus on improving research and student experience. “Australia does very well as a study destination.
We have a lot of competition in terms of other countries. Our higher education system is the flagship that pulls along the rest of the sectors,” said Seow. However, she would also like to see quality controls and promotion of the vocational education and training sector brought in line with higher education.
About the author
Kate McIntosh has worked throughout regional and remote Australia covering court, local government, health and sport. She also held positions in Latvia, Italy and Sudan. Most recently she spent 18 months mentoring young journalists in East Timor and currently works at Backstory News Magazine on the Sunshine Coast.