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Australian International Education National Strategy

Is there anything else you would like to raise that will help develop the final National Strategy for International Education?

Other factors not highlighted but impacting the international education sector include mainstream or societal and media perceptions and demonisation of international education or students, ‘population growth’, visa, immigration and related ‘white nativist’ issues in Australia and the Anglo world.

Many senior personnel in statutory marketing bodies and related e.g. Austrade and DFAT who do not follow Australian media (yes it’s true!?), are a little out of touch with current mainstream ‘zeitgeist’ naively asking ‘we want more people to increase Australia’s population don’t we?’, without being aware of the demonisation of international students, and the alarmism surrounding modest population growth, due to temporaries.

Reactive visa and immigration changes which appear to be addressing issues in significant core markets (sometimes just media), have an impact on other (emerging) markets when any restriction is introduced it can decimate smaller markets which add to diversity, i.e. ‘butterfly effect’ when impacts are not thought through.  Unfortunately many changes are driven by public perceptions, politics and media; however these perceptions may not be the actual reality, let alone valid.

This has been facilitated by Australian ‘white nativist’ advocates in politics, academia and environment sector, who have been using negative proxy arguments and tactics from the USA and UK which ultimately demonises non-Europeans, by access and transmission through compliant mainstream media and related channels.

Population Growth and the NOM Net Overseas Migration

This is exemplified by ‘dog whistling’ and the sustainable population movement, known offshore as the ‘population bombers’ who are supported by ‘research’ from ‘Australia’s best demographer’ (according to former Senator Bob Carr, while the same demographer has ‘never seen an immigrant he liked’ after decades of ‘research’).  The techniques used include inflating headline population numbers for alarming effect, aided by credulous mono cultural mainstream journalists, with the result that terms such as ‘international students’ etc. have negative connotations in the eyes of mainstream Australia.

Negative impact or alarmism is achieved by focusing upon the NOM which includes anyone in Australia for 12+/16 months (since 2006 using the UN definition), i.e. students, 2nd year WHV, 457s, New Zealanders and describing them as ‘immigrants’, even though they are temporary ‘churn over’ (according to The Economist in U.K.’s case).  There is most probably an increasingly lower correlation with growth in population through ‘immigration’ or fertility versus prosperity i.e. Australians are living longer, bravo! But they still need a broad and younger working age tax base to support them.

Presently students are subjected to various ‘tests’ by DIBP when making a visa application namely GS Genuine Student, financial (which would be challenging for all middle class Australians) and the GTE Genuine Temporary Entrant.  The latter is both Orwellian and Kafkaesque whereby visa officers are required to make a subjective judgement based upon a personal statement, candidate’s situation in their home country and how they present at interview or on telephone.

Accordingly one would expect most officers to err on the (overly) cautious side in markets deemed to be ‘high migration risk’ as it is still unclear who is actually responsible for negative outcomes (whatever they are)?  Increased NOM?  Conversely many western Europeans, British or North America are often quite transparent about their future objectives e.g. permanent residency, yet most are not subjected to the same rigour as those on the highest visa (migration risk) assessment level.

This issue is being dealt with now in a bi or multi partisan level in the UK where there is agreement by all parties that international students should not be included in the NOM.  Former Business Secretary Vince Cable explained that it produces a ‘torrid and emotional’ debate and most British do not view international students as ‘immigrants’ (‘UK urged to drop NOM targets‘).  This has also been reinforced by new Minister Education Jo Johnson:

Morgan John, THES: ‘Jo Johnson is new universities and science minister.  Jo Johnson has been appointed as the new universities and science minister….. Mr Johnson’s reputation as a pro-European is likely to please vice-chancellors, many of whom are concerned by the Tories’ pledge to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017.  Universities UK has pointed out that British higher education institutions benefit from around £1.2 billion in European research funding each year.  Mr Johnson also co-authored a 2012 Financial Times article calling for overseas students to be taken out of the government’s net migration targets.’

The issue of negative perceptions surrounding ‘international education’ and ‘international students’ (with all the other supposed +ve correlations through -ve proxies) has been researched recently by Tran and Gomes:

Stereotyping international students is unjust.  A recent ABC Four Corners Episode and associated comments over social media thrust international students into the spotlight……it presented overused stereotypes of international students only interested in gaining permanent residence rather than pursuing an education in a country they highly respect. Our research, however, contradicts conventional notions of international students as simply victims, cheaters and mere permanent residence hunters.

Instead, our separate studies show that, despite the challenges they face, many international students are dynamic individuals who are highly skilled at adapting to living and studying in Australia while at the same time having cosmopolitan aspirations of living and working overseas.’

Australia’s Brand Image

Not only are onshore perceptions damaging Australian international education brand, but offshore in Asia in core markets, there have been few if any positive reports about Study in Australia in media according to the Australian Financial Review:

Overseas education efforts under pressure……. According to a study by media research company Media Tenor, Australia’s universities are falling under the radar in generating publicity overseas.  In countries such as Taiwan and Thailand, a positive TV or print mention of an overseas university can hugely influence the decisions that students and parents make about where to study. Media Tenor analysed 2600 recent media reports about education on TV news shows. “For the entire year in 2012, there was only one report on education in Australia on international TV shows,” the report says. “The low visibility of Australian education is a missed opportunity for the country to create a strong brand and an attractive image.”

Read more in blog ‘Australia’s international image (in Asia)’

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