Attractiveness of Australian universities fades for Chinese and Indian students | Education

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Raj Kiran Grewal, who lives in Mohali in the Indian state of Punjab, considered Australia the perfect place to do his MBA.

But after spending 20 months trying to get around the country’s ultra-strict border controls, Grewal is so fed up with “false hopes” that she plans to study in the United States or Canada instead.

“Australia is definitely not the right option because they just want the money from the international students and they don’t care about the rest,” Grewal said.

“I am really frustrated with the way college and immigration have treated people stranded abroad, including international students, as well as family members of people living in Australia,” she said. added, explaining how she postponed her course when Australia closed its borders early. 2020 only for his university to cancel his enrollment after refusing to accept the option to study online.

Grewal is one of many international students who have looked elsewhere during Australia’s self-imposed isolation, raising fears of lasting damage to one of the country’s most lucrative industries.

Students from China, India, and other Asian countries have long been drawn to Australia to study because of its top-notch universities, English-speaking environment, and comfortable lifestyle. Before the pandemic, international education contributed A $ 40 billion ($ 29.5 billion) to the economy, making the sector the fourth-largest export after iron ore, coal and gas.

International students accounted for 21% of all university enrollments in 2019, compared to an average of 6% in developed countries, according to figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Australia’s international education sector has been one of the country’s most lucrative exports for years [FILE: Paul Miller/EPA]

While Australia’s decision to close its borders in March 2020 has caused people to look elsewhere, international registrations have fallen by more than 200,000 in the 20-month period through August of this year, according to data from the Ministry of Education, Skills and Employment.

In August, the number of foreign students fell to its lowest number since 2015, to just over 550,000. Chinese nationals made up the largest proportion of foreign students, followed by those from India, Nepal, from Vietnam and Malaysia.

Earlier this month, the recruitment platform Adventus reported that applications from international students had declined 51% since March, while applications in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States had climbed from 148 to 422%.

Although Australia reopened its borders to citizens and permanent residents on November 1, the government has provided no timeline for the massive return of international students to the country.

States and territories, including Victoria and New South Wales, have announced pilot projects to welcome extremely limited international students starting next month. Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said in October he hoped tens of thousands of students could return next year.

About 145,000 student visa holders currently exist in limbo abroad after deferring their studies or choosing to take their courses online.

Financial benefits

Sovia Gill, an international student who has been studying online from her hometown of Kapurthala in the Indian state of Punjab since early 2020, said a number of her friends have moved on to universities in Canada due to the lack of Australia’s clarity on reopening.

“They’re already installed,” said Gill, who is studying for a master’s degree in engineering at the University of South Queensland.

“Because I’m already halfway through my program, I’ve already spent thousands of dollars. I can’t let it go and waste all this money.

Some analysts have warned of financial fallout over several years for the sector. In August, the Melbourne-based Mitchell Institute predicted that the industry had yet to suffer its worst losses after university profits fell by $ 1.6 billion in 2020.

In a report from the same month, Ernst & Young suggested that the demand for higher education may never return to pre-pandemic levels, with university revenues falling by $ 5 billion to $ 6 billion by 2030.

“I think universities are nervous,” said Peter Hurley, educational policy researcher at the Mitchell Institute.

“I think, however, that even a much lower intake than the pre-pandemic days would be a relief!”

Hurley said lasting damage was a concern, but he was optimistic about the medium to long term outlook given “the sector’s enormous resilience in the face of the pandemic.”

Australia’s international education sector could also face headwinds due to political tensions with China, analysts say [FILE: Jason Lee/Reuters]

Andrew Norton, an expert on higher education policy at the Australian National University, said international enrollments would not return to 2019 levels anytime soon, but it was difficult to predict the longer-term trajectory.

“Australia has permanent advantages close to Asia and the climate,” Norton said. “But other factors such as competitor strategies, political tensions with China, migration parameters, regulatory changes regarding English language proficiency, and future outliers such as COVID could all influence the scale of the economy. Marlet.”

Some industry figures insist that the outlook for the sector remains optimistic.

Anne-Marie Lansdown, deputy managing director of Universities Australia, which represents universities across the country, said the “fundamental attractiveness” of higher education in Australia had not changed and students would likely return in large numbers. next year.

“Our universities remain among the best in the world, attracting academics from over 140 different countries before the pandemic,” Lansdown said, adding that 91% of international students surveyed in Australia in 2020 reported a positive experience in the country.

“Universities have worked incredibly hard to support all the students who have adapted in a very resilient way to online learning, regardless of their geographic location. “

Even as Australia’s international education industry does eventually recover, there is no doubt that students like Grewal are feeling the frustration after nearly two years in limbo.

“They should have provided more clarity on the reopening of the borders so that students can find something else to do during that time,” Grewal said. “They weren’t very understanding… That’s why statistics show a drop in the number of international students.

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