Australia and New Zealand’s international education sectors face prolonged pain from Covid-19 as competing countries capitalize on a ‘fortress’ downward mentality.
Jon Chew, chief analyst at Navitas, said the two countries faced protracted “competitiveness” problems as their northern hemisphere rivals recruited foreign students. “Australia and New Zealand are likely to suffer from a long Covid,” Mr. Chew told the Australian International Education Conference.
But he predicted “green lights at all levels” for Canada and the UK. “Whether it’s the deployment of the vaccine, the opening of borders, the reduction of quarantine requirements [or] the flights being available …[they] have had very optimal conditions for several months now.
Mr Chew said the number of Australian student visas granted to overseas applicants in the first semester of 2021 was 18% lower than the equivalent period last year and 61% lower than the 2019 figures.
Canada, on the other hand, had started 2021 well after “dropping the ball” in the run-up to the fall start of last year. Thirty-seven percent more new study permits were issued in the first semester of the year than in the equivalent period of 2020, and 4 percent more than in 2019.
In the UK, a “huge” 161 percent increase in the issue of sponsored study visas had pushed the number of new students about a third higher than before Covid.
The two northern hemisphere countries are “incredibly well positioned for any release from pent-up demand in the second half of this year,” Chew said. And there was clear evidence of pent-up demand in student surveys and website visits to IDPs of global education service companies.
He said IELTS language test volumes had returned to pre-pandemic levels in December. “Time will tell if a global catch-up is underway [but] there has certainly been a strong rebound.
New data collected by IDP Connect underscores the popularity of Canada, which was the top study destination for 39% of the 3,650 potential students surveyed, mostly from South Asia and the Philippines. Sixty-nine percent named Canada among the countries they were considering.
Australia was the top choice for 16 percent of respondents, and under review by less than half. New Zealand was rated by around a quarter and was the top destination for just 4 percent.
Mr Chew said the two countries were facing protracted slowdowns for five reasons. The first was a reduction in capacity, as institutions closed or reduced their offerings to international students. The second was a “direct transfer of capacity” as the practitioners fled north. “Whenever… academic or professional staff have to leave, there is a Canadian or British university ready to reclaim its expertise, know-how, relationships and networks abroad. “
Another factor has been the erosion of “enduring benefits” such as Australia-focused counselors in education agencies. “These counselors are being retrained to direct students to the northern hemisphere, where there are viable options at this time.”
A fourth factor was the loss of word of mouth recommendations. “When family members study elsewhere … we miss siblings and cousins. The same type of trail dependency effects come into play when families buy property or enter into leases. “
Finally, the ranking of universities in the antipodes had been largely funded by money from international students. “When it goes down… institutions elsewhere will benefit from increased fee income. We can expect a gradual exchange of places in these world rankings. “