Quacquarelli Symonds' (QS) latest report provides universities and other higher education providers with critical insights into how Australia and New Zealand can position themselves as destinations of choice for students in early 2022.
In developing the report, titled Volume 1: The road to recovery in Australia and New Zealand International Student Survey 2021, QS analysed data from the 2021 QS International Student Survey, as well as the ongoing QS Coronavirus Student Survey. The International Student survey included responses from more than 30,000 prospective international students, covering undergraduate (40 per cent), postgraduate: coursework (34 per cent), postgraduate: research (21 per cent) and TAFE/Vocational courses (4 per cent). Twenty-seven institutions participated.
Data collected from the ongoing QS Coronavirus Student Survey comprised 1,267 students and was collected between 1 January and 31 March 2021. A similar range of course preferences were identified. The data helped to recommend strategies to make Australia and New Zealand study destinations of choice, particularly in 2022.
Australia and New Zealand must communicate their relative success in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, and communicate a clear timetable for opening up their international borders.
“These results have the potential to act as an important recruitment drawcard, with over 50 per cent of prospective students indicating that they had reconsidered which country to study in based on the way each country’s government has managed the pandemic,“ the report says.
“However, these favourable results have the potential to be offset by each country’s strict international travel controls, with 58 per cent saying that they would be looking to study in a country that is already open for international students, rather than wait for their preferred country to be open.”
As these observations show, while the perception is that both Australia and New Zealand have handled the pandemic well, it is imperative that both countries communicate a clear plan and timetable for international students to return en masse, “limiting the possibility of prospects choosing another country when they may have otherwise preferred to study here”.
Institutions must be able to provide accessible and low-cost quarantine options for prospective students.
The Road to Recovery report reassuringly found that a large majority of prospective international students were willing to undertake mandatory quarantine in their study destination of choice.
“However, there is an expectation that at least some of the cost of quarantine would be covered by someone other than themselves (likely the institution they have enrolled at, or subsidised by the government of their destination country or city),” the report said.
“Students also expressed a strong preference for their quarantine to be conducted on campus – two thirds said they would prefer to undertake their quarantine in an on-campus hall of residence, rather than a hotel.”
The report warned that quarantine affordability would be a primary concern for prospective students and a “favourable quarantine arrangement may serve as an enticement to choose Australia or New Zealand over other countries”.
Establish comprehensive support services at institutions to manage a range of student challenges and concerns.
The third recommendation contained in the QS report emphasises the range of extra support and services that will be required to help manage the social and mental wellbeing of prospective international students during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result, international students will be relying on their chosen institution to not only provide a high-quality learning experience, but to provide access to social, emotional and pastoral support mechanisms, and to put measures in place to ensure that students are appropriately supported in all aspects of their academic and non-academic life,” the report says.
“The survey results suggest a high level of demand for formalised support services, including student counselling, mental health advice services, 24-hour helplines and the ability for these services to provide referrals to health care professionals.”
The Road to Recovery report found that cost of living is the key concern for prospective students, and recommended that it will be vital for institutions to afford their international student bodies more scope for service providing, such as employment and housing assistance, banking and financial services and advice, as well access to subsidised goods.
Up-to-date information on course delivery, applications, fees and scholarship details.
While the report emphasises that the management of COVID-19 remains the key concern among prospective international students, it cautions that other university-related information must be clear, comprehensive and up to date.
“Some of the most common types of information sought in this regard include information regarding local COVID-19 outbreaks, updated travel information and details on changes to university operations and teaching delivery modes,” the report states.
“However, there is also still a need to continue providing a steady stream of information on the core aspects of the student application and enrolment process – 78 per cent are still seeking more information on funding and scholarships, 61 per cent are looking for more information to help them choose a study destination, while around half are looking for more information on what program to study and how to prepare their application and admissions forms.
“While COVID-19 and its impact on international study may still be a top-of-mind issue for institutions and prospective students alike, the results serve as a reminder of the importance of equipping students with the core information they need to make an informed decision about where and what to study.”
Offshore online options will be most effective when framed as a temporary option.
Given that most students surveyed in 2021 are seeking “a traditional, in-country and on-campus study experience”, many students are seeking assurances that they’ll be able to travel to their university of choice as soon as possible.
“However, with on-campus study not possible in the near future for most prospective students, they are increasingly faced with the decision to start their studies online, to defer their studies until they can undertake them in-person or to look to study in another country which is accepting international travellers,” the report says.
“The results show that 44 per cent of prospective students would be interested in starting their degree online, if it meant that they would be able to travel to their destination country to study on-campus when able to do so.
"A further 27 per cent were undecided, and 39 per cent said that they would consider studying online if it came with a discount to their tuition fees.”
Concessions for studying online have been backed by the report, as they will not only convince students to begin study at their institution of choice, but “will be crucial in securing enrolments in the short-term while international travel into Australia and New Zealand is still severely restricted”.
Online delivery must be as interactive and as student-centred as possible
As online delivery remains the only option for overseas students studying at an Australian university, it is critical that it is as "interactive as possible, facilitating high-quality interactions between students and their lecturer, and conducted in time zones which allow offshore students to take part".
Results from the International Student Survey 2021 highlight that online learning must display a high level of interactivity, giving international students the ability to discuss issues or course content with their lecturers and peers in "real-time". However, at the same time, institutions must implement asynchronous learning, such as recorded lectures and formative activities that can be completed at different times. Both of these requirements are critical when supporting students whose first language is not English; they require both constant access to experts and resources they can tap into at suitable times.
To that end, synchronicity is problematic for such students and is not recommended for either them or teaching staff delivering the units.
"A high-level online learning program will require flexibility and adaptability on the part of teaching staff to meet this challenge and make sure that the online learning experience is an enriching and rewarding one, regardless of where the students are physically located," the report said.
While the survey found Australia was handling the pandemic relatively well, International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) chief executive officer Phil Honeywood was critical of the government's inability to get pilot plans off the ground.
"...any so-called 'COVID health dividend' in practice is worth very little if affected offshore-based students’ patience runs out. While calls for an indicative return date are totally understandable, the sector is looking to Minister Tudge for rapid approval of South Australia’s student return plan to send the right messages that Australia is keen to get students back!" he said.
"The student return plans that I have seen to date all involve a focus on low cost quarantine. Given the well documented challenges faced with hotel quarantine, it is perfectly reasonable for students to show a preference for on-campus accommodation. To their credit, the Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) Providers have been at the forefront of a number of draft student return plans deliberations.
"The NSW state government recently went out to tender for this type of quarantine. Unlike hotels, PBSA providers have comprehensive pastoral care and student friendly activity programs and can often offer less expensive quarantine accommodation packages when compared to hotels.
"If the pandemic has proven anything, it is that all Australian education providers must ensure that well-thought through comprehensive student support services have to be made core business. While different levels of government can assist with the provision of 24-hour help lines, for instance, the days of student support services being seen as an ancillary service are well behind us. This applies in equal measure to employability advice, placements and support as well."
Honeywood was also heartened to hear that nearly half of prospective overseas students would be interested in commencing their degree online if they could complete it in Australia, although he also highlighted some risk.
"This would, of course, need to be a two-way undertaking between the student and their education institution. For example, students can currently change education providers in Australia after only six months. Many education providers would not be keen on making firm undertakings to offshore students only to see them jump into a less expensive course with a different provider," he warned.Do you have an idea for a story?
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