Competition grows in international student market

Australia in one of only seven countries in the world with more than 100,000 international students on its shores, but the tertiary education sector can’t be complacent. Dr Daniel Edwards, senior research fellow at the Australian Educational Research (ACER), issued this warning after digging into data that shows encroaching competition on Australia’s market share.
Edwards’ analysis of 2009 figures from UNESCO shows Australia with more than 250,000 international students. In raw numbers, it placed third after the UK (370,000) and the US (660,000). But the report indicates the trend may not continue, noting that the number of countries now engaged in international education has risen to 109, with many of the top performers Asian-Pacific neighbours. 
“The sheer number of countries that are now offering higher education is pretty remarkable, in particular in the Asia Pacific area, which is our home turf for international students,” Edwards told CR. “It’s a fairly important market and the countries in this region are equipped now to deal with international students and are starting to enrol them, but we need to do analysis in terms of absolute gains in these other countries.”
He said the data also proved the Australian system’s high reliance on international students and indicated an inversion of inbound students compared to outbound. “Economically, it makes more sense to have more inbound students and we pride ourselves on the strength of our education system. The argument could well be that we have such a high quality system that out domestic students don’t necessarily want to leave,” he said.
Looking at net flows, which determine inbound versus outbound student numbers in the context of the overall size of systems, Australia is the highest ranking of the three traditional countries. The UK and US drop significantly in this part of the analysis due to their much larger education systems. It is also here that another country — Macao — shines in first spot. With a net flow of 45 per cent, it far exceeds Australia, in second position with a net gain of 20 per cent.
Edwards, whose report appears in ACER’s Joining the Dots series, said the data did not pick up the ebbs and flows that had occurred in the Australian market since 2009. Nonetheless, it provided a helpful snapshot. It shows Australia as the most popular destination for tertiary students from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Australia is the second most popular destination for students from Vietnam, Nepal, Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Brunei.
“While it remains one of the ‘big fish’ in the international student scene, growth in the size, quality, and infrastructure for hosting international students in the future is likely to be substantial, thus signalling a warning to Australian providers that the number of host nations is growing, as is their capacity to compete for students,” Edwards writes.

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