Recruitment agents ‘closing Australia desks’ in China

Resurgent student flows set to bypass Australia and New Zealand as education agents in most regions usher clients to more welcoming countries

May 18, 2021
Thumbs down illustrating international student flows to Australia and New Zealand
Source: iStock

Australian universities are surrendering their “historical advantages” in greater China, where education agents are closing their Australia-only desks and counselling would-be students to “hedge their bets” by applying to other countries.

A new report says the UK now rates well ahead of Australia on overall appeal to Chinese students. And Chinese agents rate Canberra only slightly ahead of Westminster on coronavirus management, notwithstanding their “high expectations” around student safety.

“This is puzzling given the two countries have had very divergent public health approaches and outcomes during Covid-19,” says the report by global education chain Navitas. “While the UK failed to manage case counts, it is now making up for it with a stellar vaccination programme.”

Navitas analysed data from its March survey of almost 900 agents to highlight regional differences in the advice offered to students and their parents. Australia and New Zealand are now considered less likely to facilitate international arrivals than any other major educational destination, and are attracting less student interest than most other countries.

This is the case across greater China, south Asia and continental Europe – where the UK “still appears relatively appealing to international students”, even though Brexit has made enrolling there a far more expensive proposition.

Australia and New Zealand have maintained strong reputations only in South-east Asia, where agents “continue to show strong appreciation for how well Covid-19 has been suppressed”. But even in this region, Australia and New Zealand are deemed least likely to open their borders this year.

Australia’s 11 May budget papers said large-scale international student arrivals were unlikely before July 2022. Prime minister Scott Morrison has since offered more optimistic projections, telling a 16 May press conference that admitting international students would be the “next step” once vaccinated Australians could travel freely.

“I welcome the fact that universities are stumping up to work with state governments to put…facilities in place to support their students coming back,” Mr Morrison said. “We’ll look at that very favourably.”

Education minister Alan Tudge said Canberra was “working through” the “good plans” being developed by the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments. But he told Sky News that some 150,000 foreign students were stuck offshore.

“Can we get to those sort of numbers in the first half of next year? I don’t know. Our main focus at the moment is…to see if we can get smaller-scale pilots up and running later this year. We’re just taking one step at a time,” he said.

The cautious reopening could come too late, with many Chinese and Indian agents tipping that global student flows will surpass pre-pandemic levels from the second half of this year. While the disastrous recent outbreak in India could temper these expectations, growth of 10 to 15 per cent next year from China would still represent “a sizeable increase”.

The report says agents are advising students to start studying online and switch to in-person classes when they can rather than wait for borders to reopen and confront “a longer queue for admission, visas and flights”.

However, more students than ever are applying to multiple countries – underscoring the “unpredictability” universities face. “Until tuition fees are paid and students arrive on campus, it would be prudent not to assume that [they] will continue through the conversion funnel as they have done in previous years.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Aus has fallen from China's favour and not just the Universities, UK Universities should not gloat nor bank on Chinese students, the over-reliance on Chinese money some have been depending on will come to an end, either due to better Chinese provision, or more likely due to Chinese Governmental edict when they 'take offence' at something our Government does. The task force sailing to go through international waters in the South China sea maybe just the trigger Beijing needs.