UK frets over overseas students as Australia backs 'super growth'

UK parliamentary group voices concerns while international education plan launches in Australia

May 15, 2016
People sitting on the beach on giant lilos
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Buoyant: Australia sees international education as ‘one of the five super growth sectors contributing to Australia’s transition from a resources-based to a modern services economy’

A new parliamentary group has been launched to voice “widespread concern across all parties over the UK losing international students to our competitors” – shortly after Australia announced a strategy to boost international education as a “super growth sector”.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, co-chaired by cross-bench peer Lord Bilimoria and Labour MP Paul Blomfield, warned at its launch event that the UK is losing market share in overseas students, and it will call for changes to government immigration policy impacting on students.

Meanwhile, on 30 April, the Australian government published the National Strategy for International Education 2025, for which it will provide A$12 million (£6.08 million) of funding from 2016-17.

Richard Colbeck, Australian minister for tourism and international education, says in his foreword to the strategy that it aims to ensure the country can “withstand increasing competition and sustainably grow our market share, whilst maintaining the quality for which we are renowned”.

In the UK, Mr Blomfield, a longstanding campaigner on the issue of international students, said of the APPG’s work: “We’ll provide a renewed focus for the widespread concern across all parties and in both Houses of Parliament over the way in which the UK is losing international students to our competitors.

“We won the argument in the last Parliament; now we need to win the policy changes that will make a difference. The first step must be to remove international students from net migration targets, so that we open up a sensible discussion on policies such as improving post-study work opportunities.”

He added: “We need to learn from countries like Australia, which, after facing similar problems, commissioned the Knight Review [the 2011 review that prompted the introduction of more generous post-study work visas] to lead policy change and is now building on that success with an ambitious 10-year international education strategy led by a newly created ministerial post.”

In the Australian strategy document, Mr Colbeck says that international education is recognised as “one of the five super growth sectors contributing to Australia’s transition from a resources-based to a modern services economy”. He highlights the scope to expand “blended delivery models, online professional development, and offshore and edu-tourism opportunities”, but said the strategy will be “driven by the education sector”.

The main strategy document says that “increased global development and industrialisation, particularly within the Indo-Pacific region, will increase demand for skilled workers…An increase in incomes and a growing middle class, again within the Indo-Pacific region, is increasing demand for high-quality schooling and higher education with strong employability outcomes.”

Australia’s “chief competition” in international education “currently comes from the United States and the United Kingdom, who hold 19 per cent and 10 per cent of the market respectively, and we are closely trailed by France, Germany, Japan and Canada. Like Australia, these countries are also actively seeking to increase their market share,” says the strategy.

“In addition, emerging players like China and India are keen to expand their international education offerings, especially in higher education. They are also increasing their competitiveness in the market by offering courses in English.

“Just as Australian education providers look to opportunities offshore, these countries are also actively pursuing offshore delivery, including here in Australia.”

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