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Australian education US competition, immigration issues and amateur marketing

Australian education subject to US competition, immigration issues and flawed marketing

US set to profit from our visa woes. AUSTRALIA’S international education sector has often feared what would happen if the American giant woke up and wanted more international students. And now it does.

For the first time in more than a decade, senior US college administrators are talking seriously about their need to recruit international students…..

….And to a degree, we Australians only have ourselves to blame. At exactly the time the US college sector is beginning to stir, Australia is shrinking into itself.

We’ve experienced 12 months of severe turbulence in international education. Safety concerns. The collapse of the private vocational college sector. A rising dollar. And now, perhaps most destructive of all, a heavy-handed immigration response.

Australia has enjoyed a decade of growth in international education. Growth has been stately, elegant even, in the university and associated sectors. And it has been supported by a transparent and fair student visa regime.

…. Now that the bubble has burst, with regulators cracking down as they weed out the non-genuine education providers and visa processing grinding almost to a halt for students bound for the sector, we are seeing the correction that ought have happened years ago.

…. Right now, as the US and other countries spot an opportunity, we need our regulators to play their part in ensuring that the whole house of cards does not come tumbling down.

Is this the first signal from the university sector that new commencements of international candidates have dropped considerably, and now time for excuses e.g. blaming private colleges, and maybe quite rightly the social climate surrounding foreigners in Australia and prospective immigrants?

Have always been curious about the state university and TAFE sectors internationally, keeping in mind the description given by a Deputy Vice Chancellor “disjointed (communiities) seeking activity (preferably offshore)”, and from a Canadian wokring at an Australian Education Centre, “it’s great working for them, like working with the ‘Keystone Cops’! One could add narcissistic, vain, secretive in many cases ….. and have failed to explain the industry well to the Australian public. The result is the strangling of the goose that lay the golden egg….

What many in the sector do not seem aware of is that much of Australia’s success was not due to great marketing, but the post WWII market development via the Colombo Plan in Asia, and being an early entrant into the Asian market, with massive demand for education, complemented by aggressive promotion and sales, and later by study to PR opportunities.

What has been neglected is good marketing practice including monitoring and feedback of the student experience, word of mouth, virtual channels, teaching/learning quality, related outcomes and medium/long term international marketing strategy (versus the industry preferred international travel plans to promotional events). While Australia focussed upon short term enrolments from a limited number of markets e.g. originally Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, later India and China, it was inevitable that other players from the US and Europe would catch up, not to forget source country education systems improving their own quality.

Although cited as Australian traits, one has observed a lack of creativity, innovation and initiative in international marketing from TAFEs and universities (and private colleges), who still cling to physical outbound channels exemplified by travel (perks) with brochures versus inbound using virtual channels to access multiple markets via onshore resources e.g. students witth languages, and agent websites offshore.

The writer of the article, Jeffrey Smart, when informed that e.g. Turkey (where 100 -150 students go to university in Australia with millions spent via AEI Austrade on fairs etc. past 20 years) has 10-12,000 students at university in the USA alone, and 40+ private universities established in country, claimed that Mexico would be a nice market too but how (surely someone has ideas)? Universities have business faculties where they have both industry and research expertise in marketing, have they ever been consulted, or are they also too busy with their international consulting outside of work?

One very successful regional university has a diverse international cohort, e.g. only 15% from India and China, remainder from Europe, Africa and America through a strategy of not just short term promotion and selling, but marketing in various markets to ensure diverse student cohort and study experience for all candidates, to insure against international enrolment shocks.

The sense of complacency was exemplified by one senior TAFE Director who trumpeted on email to offshore agents “great news we got travel approval”, and then asked about marketing strategy replied “why do we need a marketing strategy, we have an approved travel plan?”. Until the sector takes a more responsible and professional approach to marketing including strategy, not viewing the international domain as their personal right to travel incessantly and “create offshore projects” on public funds, there will be a downward spiral of ever decreasing circles and commencements.

The next big shock is yet to come, not just Australian anti foreigner campaign of conflation about refugees, study to PR, immigration etc. And what will that be? While more players enter the market, not just from the USA, but Europe also, with good quality education for reasonable fees, Australian domestic students may find that the “grass is greener on the other side” when they start paying even higher fees for so so quality in Australia, they can have an experience of a life time studying offshore.

AIEC Australian International Education Centre.

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