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International Education Policy and Politics in Australia and Britain

Recent articles highlights some of the contradictions in governments’ disjointed actions over international students, being compromised by misinformed domestic electoral concerns about visa, immigration and population growth


From University World News: ‘Parochial thinking in a global student business’. Brian Stoddart:


Over the past two decades or so, one of the most startling but often unnoticed business developments in several economies has been the rise of international and transnational education.

During that period, for example, the activity has become Australia’s largest service industry and ranks consistently in the top four export industries along with mining, tourism and agriculture. General estimates put the business at around A$18 billion (US$15.4 billion) per year.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand, with a population of around four million, now generates around A$800 million per year from international student fees, another sizeable contribution to that country’s impressive economic growth.

As a sign of the rapid development in this market, some of Australia and New Zealand’s best customers have now become rivals.

In Singapore, roughly 18% to 20% of its total tertiary enrolments are international students. By 2010, Malaysia had enrolled 86,000 international students and by 2014 had an annual recruitment target of almost 50,000. Canada had enrolled 265,000 by 2012.

As ever, though, the world’s two biggest markets roll on. The United Kingdom has approximately 300,000 international students, but that includes European Union students under different rules. The United States now has some 886,000 students, according to this month’s Open Doors report from the Institute of International Education.

This, then, is big business. The impact on economies is both direct, through fees and visa costs, and indirect across a range of required services: accommodation and property, food, service support, travel and a host of others.

An integrated approach

Given the obvious impact on the economy, it might be imagined that governments around the world would be alive to the need for an integrated approach to the development of this growing market and to the need to make life easy for prospective students….

An opportunity?

In one sense, that points to a major dilemma for many governments. Put crudely, do they approach international student recruitment as a temporary cash flow opportunity, or see it as a genuine opportunity to build national capacity? …

… For reasons still unfathomable, the (U.K.) government then decided that international student visas would increase in number (because of the potential economic impact). But student numbers would be contained inside a shrinking total immigration ‘bubble’ aimed at reducing overall immigration numbers. At best it was difficult to explain, at worst impossible.

That was compounded by the then UK Border Force’s arbitrary cancellation of over 2,000 international student visas at London Metropolitan University, and it ordering those students to leave Britain within a week. It took months to sort out a mess that did untold damage to the UK’s educational image and advantaged rival countries.

This all demonstrates that governments around the world face a major problem in protecting and developing a lucrative and important economic driver.

Rapidly growing international demand and a desire to meet that demand is one thing. Balancing all the internal considerations and demands in order to deliver seamless services to incoming students is quite another.

Any government that gets it right will be onto a real winner.


For more information about international education, students, immigration, students and human development click through.

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