Education geared for growth

Articles and op-ed

Published in The Australian

30 September 2013

WHENEVER I have discussed Australia's trade performance, I have always been surprised by how many people still don't realise the importance of Australia's international education sector.

It is Australia's fourth largest export, behind iron ore, coal and gold, and last year it had student enrolments of more than 500,000, earned $15 billion in revenue, and employed more than 100,000 people. And that's on top of the invaluable benefits that Australia gains each year through strengthened people-to-people and institution-to-institution linkages that will last decades.

This is what makes Australia's international education sector such a remarkable contributor to our trade performance on any measure.

Of course, the sector has been under pressure over the past few years for reasons well known by its members. The high value of the Australian dollar, a student visa system that was uncompetitive by world standards, and stronger competition from other countries have seen a significant decline in the number of students since the peak of 630,000 enrolments in 2009. There are now signs of a strong pick-up in the numbers but there still is a pressing need to promote our education and training excellence. We can't be complacent since the international education sector is highly competitive and it faces new challenges from the increasing spread of digital education platforms such as Massive Open Online Courses.

One of the most important ways we can improve Australia's reputation as a reliable provider of high-quality education services is to send messages that promote the excellence of our education institutions and the career-enhancing boost they provide to international students.

That's why my launch of a new digital postcard competition "Win Your Future Unlimited" is an important event for the international education and training sector, and the thousands of people it employs around the nation.

With the support of corporate and education sponsors, the competition offers the chance to win a year's free study in Australia.

It will encourage thousands of potential international students to consider Australia as their study destination and will reinforce positive perceptions about Australian education.

This competition will be promoted globally through social media and digital advertising in our main recruitment markets, China, India and South Korea, as well as in growth markets such as Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam.

Sustainability is an important consideration in any business and if we promote Australia in a smart way, there is a real prospect of Australia becoming an education powerhouse.

Last year, I expressed the view that there was no reason why Australian educators couldn't be teaching 10 million international students within a decade.

While there is of course scope to increase our domestic intake, there is also enormous opportunity offshore and through the use of new technology, including MOOCs platforms.

My faith in the potential for growth is based on the enormous demographic changes under way in the dynamic economies of the Asia Pacific, where a rising middle class is likely to increase demand for more and better education services. By 2030, the size of this middle class is expected to reach 3.2 billion people, from about 500 million today.

UNESCO has forecast, for example, that the number of internationally mobile students will almost double from 4 million in 2010 to 7 million by 2020 and many of these will come from Asia's new middle class, which is likely to demand services in all four sectors: higher education; vocational education and training; schools and intensive English language courses.

But to realise this potential we need to let the rest of the world know about our capabilities.

That's why we promote Australian education and training internationally using the Future Unlimited brand which was developed in consultation with the sector.

The basic idea behind Future Unlimited was to shift the focus away from Australia's lifestyle and natural beauty as points of attraction for students to one emphasising the ways in which study in Australia can help fulfil career ambitions through a quality education.

We called the brand Future Unlimited because we believe that an education in Australia can help shape a student's future by giving them a greater chance of success.

It's now used in promotional activities in more than 50 countries and 37 of Australia's 41 universities are among the 300 or so licensees here in Australia and overseas.

The Win Your Future Unlimited competition encapsulates the key messages behind Future Unlimited in an imaginative way by asking students to design a digital postcard that depicts their future and how an education in Australia can help them achieve this. In December, this will become a reality for a lucky winner.

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