Chinese alumni potential still ‘untapped’

There has still been no major research into the long-term economic contributions made to Australia by Chinese students. By Antonia Maiolo
The economic potential of Australia’s large network of Chinese alumni has been overlooked, despite evidence of ongoing returns, years after they graduate from our universities, new research suggests.
Victoria University researcher Jo Pyke, who led the Chinese alumni survey, said although we are beginning to experience the short-term benefits of international education for tourism, any long-term contribution from international alumni has not been considered.
Pyke says Australia is lagging behind other countries, and that US universities have up to 500 staff working in the alumni area. “The same level of investment hasn’t been made by Australian universities who are only really just starting to see the value of strong alumni networks,” Pyke said.
In China alone, it’s estimated that there are 150,000-plus alumni that Australian universities have yet to reconnect with. 
The research identified several barriers to travel including cost, inconvenience of flights and difficulties in obtaining a visa, especially for family and friends.
The report recommends policies designed to treat alumni as having “special status”, such as providing them with easier, longer-term, multi-entry visas, may be an important investment in longer-term engagement.
Pyke said we should be targeting the best and brightest with migration paths to become permanent residents and citizens, and that the government should ensure better coordination between tourism and education sectors through a cross-sectional committee or taskforce approach.
The survey revealed that 64 per cent of alumni returned to Australia in the past five years. A further 93 per cent of alumni surveyed said they intend to travel to Australia at least once in the next five years.
“These 205 alumni alone made 1000 plus trips between Australia and China over the last five years, contributing some $2-10 million into the economy,” Edward Smith, co-author and founder of the ACAA, said.  
Smith said in order to grow this group, there must be greater understanding of their needs, especially Chinese students, who account for more than 40 per cent of annual international enrolments.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, China is Australia’s largest source of overseas students with more than 118,000 Chinese students in 2012, making Australia the third most popular overseas study destination for Chinese students, after the US and Japan.
Victoria University researchers together with the Australia China Alumni Association (ACAA) and the Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) in Beijing surveyed more than 1200 alumni living in China and found alumni not only return to Australia to holiday, but also use their time to catch up with friends, do business and undertake further education.
Pyke said alumni can become ‘bridges’ to Asia and facilitate two-way trade, investment, knowledge exchange and positive diplomatic relations.
“We have alumni who go on to import huge volumes of food and beverages from Australia, or who have set up international education agencies that have referred 10,000-plus students to study at Australian universities,” Smith said.
Research also showed that alumni visiting Australia regularly, bringing their family and friends with them, have a “multiplier effect”. There is evidence showing that 71 per cent of survey respondents said they had recommended Australia as a place to study.
A spokesperson for the department said the International Education Advisory Council’s report – ‘Australia – Educating Globally’ released earlier this year places “a significant emphasis on engagement with alumni including through continued improvement of the Australia student visa program”. 

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