Australian universities must not lose sight of international recruitment

As the fall term begins in the northern hemisphere, international students return to the UK, Canada and the US, denying the idea that the pandemic would deter a generation of students from studying beyond from their own borders.

On the marketplace, our digital platform connecting recruiting agents, students and higher education institutions, we process more than 2,200 applications from international students each month.

British institutions, for example, are inundated with requests, which they deal with madly. Meanwhile, with borders in Australia and New Zealand still closed, Antipodean institutions can only watch with envy.

Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has lost more than 150,000 international student registrations, according to federal data. That’s a staggering number, and the toll on the sector has been enormous, forcing significant layoffs in many establishments, especially casual staff.

International students are essential for Australia – both economically and culturally. Their absence also has consequences for national students. For example, many postgraduate coursework programs across the country have never been viable without the enrollment of international students.

It is reasonable that Australian institutions have become frustrated with the difficulties of launching pilot student programs given the vague deadlines and uncertain messages from the federal government. As we experience gradual lockdowns in Australia, it’s easy to feel pessimistic. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel as land debuts are expected to finally be achievable once the country hits its 80% vaccination target – slated for early November – and restrictions. of Covid will finally be able to begin to be relaxed.

Mike Ferguson, Chairman of the Australian Universities International Executives Forum (AUIDF), recently said: “Australian institutions need to adopt a long-term mindset to effectively recover from the pandemic, for example by looking for new ways to getting it right and reinforcing our value proposition. It will be too easy to focus on the short term when the border reopens, and this is a trap we must avoid. “

He is right. As pent-up demand continues to grow, institutions can take action now to ensure they are ready to welcome international students back to the country.

Maintaining global visibility will be critical over the next 12-18 months. Instead of going underground until the situation is more secure, institutions that make a concerted effort to continue their marketing activities are likely to do better in the long run.

Even though budget constraints mean that marketing is at a lower level than in the past, institutions can still build relationships with students considering international studies in the future, with an emphasis on the quality of their offerings. . After all, the decision-making time for international students is on average 11 months, so it’s best to look ahead.

In addition, a true diversification of source markets is more important than ever, even if Covid-19 presents big obstacles. The institutions that will bounce back the fastest when borders open are those that have established a presence in the new countries of origin during this period.

It is also crucial to understand how to engage with different markets. For example, the message “start online, travel later” has been a temporary balm to some extent, but it plays out very differently in different places. Many Chinese students have remained loyal to online studies, but many Indian students have chosen to go elsewhere.

Understanding the nuances involved and getting the message across correctly will be essential over the next year or so. It will be the same for communication as students will be better received and taken care of than ever when they arrive here.

This message must be reinforced by the federal government. Indeed, the government could do much more to help the sector. Other suggestions include subsidizing quarantine facilities specifically designed for international students and offering better work rights after graduation.

It is a painful wait for both students and institutions. But the restrictions will eventually be lifted and demand will resume. Australian educational institutions remain world class and the experience, lifestyle, culture and climate of their students are still attractive.

There are a lot of things that institutions cannot control at the moment. But they have to stay on top of who they can. They should do everything possible to remain visible to students around the world and be ready to welcome them again.

Stephen Connelly is Vice President of Business Development at He was previously Assistant Vice-Chancellor (International and Development) at RMIT University.

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