The international education sector plays a key role in both the economic and social life of this country. As an executive search firm working within the sector, we are often surprised by how unaware much of the community is of its size and impact. Perhaps this is a reflection of the relatively low media profile of higher education in particular.
It is therefore useful to highlight some of the headline and measureable figures of the Australian international education sector:
- It is Australia’s fourth largest export industry (in excess of $15b), most of which relates to higher education.
- International education is Victoria’s top export and New South Wales’ second top export (behind coal).
- Overseas students make up more than 20% of the total student population in Australian Universities.
- In Victoria in 2012, there were approximately 150,000 international students from over 160 countries.
- 80% of international students are from Asia.
The benefits of international education are many and not all can be quantified. These include:
- The facilitation of international engagement.
- Enhanced global perspectives (business) and improved professional connections (individual).
- Increased opportunities for business, research, cultural and social initiatives.
- Raising of Australia’s profile and global standing.
Based on recent OECD predictions our international student numbers could grow to around 760,000 by 2020, a 50% increase on 2012 figures. As the middle class in Asia continues to expand and seeks higher levels of education, Australia is seen as a close, attractive and high quality student destination.
Even if the OECD numbers are optimistic, there is no doubt that growth with continue in the next decade. As a community are we prepared for the future opportunities that such growth will bring? Are we putting in place the required infrastructure? Are we developing the skills required to service the sector? How do we ensure that Australia can effectively compete against the rest of the work for its share of the international education pie? These questions should be exercising the mind of policy makers and business leaders, not just those within the higher education sector.
Source: Australia Educating Globally (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013)