During the ATN International Education Summit, a panel of speakers that included Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp, CEO of Australian Hoteliers Association Stephen Ferguson and the Australian Industry Group’s Megan Lilly discussed what they believe to be a lack of understanding and appreciation of the value of international education to the wider Australian economy and community.
“People say ‘well their families should be looking after them’. We are their family”
When combined, the education and tourism sectors are Australia’s largest services export – worth around AUD$66 billion to the economy last year and the two sectors are inextricably linked with one in four students having family or friends visit them while they study in Australia.
In 2019 this resulted in 300,000 visitors spending almost $1bn.
Australia has however announced its first secure corridor pilot program flight since the summit. Around 70 students will travel to the Northern Territory from Singapore in late October.
IEAA CEO Phil Honeywood said the initiative would be “a tonic for our beleaguered sector”.
Hey it’s a start!
Congratulations to everyone involved in this great NT initiative – it’s going to be a tonic for our beleaguered sector! https://t.co/DEwk0bY1uA
— Phil Honeywood (@PhilHoneywood) September 28, 2020
Speaking before the panel discussion on September 21, minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham said along with the economic benefit, there are significant long term benefits of international education in the building of new relationships between countries and individuals that will help to drive strong people to people, business to business, and government to government links well into the future.
He said the government is committed to working with states and territories to bring students back as soon as possible and working with the sector to rebuild student numbers and position Australia as a world leader for international education.
However, the government and communities need to change their attitude towards international students if it wants to remain competitive, according to the panel.
In the state of Victoria, international students contribute $5 bn to the state’s economy, with its capital Melbourne usually home to more than 80,000 international students.
Capp said despite these numbers and the fact that international students are important to virtually every aspect of the community, their contribution both economic and cultural have largely been undervalued, something that’s been highlighted by their treatment during the pandemic.
“They’ve slipped through cracks because they’re not eligible for financial support,” she said.
“Unfortunately, people say ‘well their families should be looking after them’. We are their family. We should be looking after them. Not just during a crisis but all the time. We need to recognise their status, their importance to us and make sure they are recognised accordingly”.
Her sentiments were echoed by Stephen Ferguson who’s association represents over 5,000 hotels that employ a significant number of international students, as well as enjoying the benefits from the tourism associated with their presence.
“If we didn’t have the international students, we wouldn’t be able to do the work. They bring more money with them than they take home, they spend money, their families come over and spend money”.
He said he believes Australia has let them down and the country must do better.
“We go out to the world at large and say to the parents of the children: ‘We’re a safe country to send your kids to, we’ll look after them while they’re here. We’ve got a great set of values – mateship and friendship, looking after people who need a hand up.
“Yet the first tickle that things are a bit tough we say ‘all bets are off you need to go home’. That doesn’t stack up. If we looked after those people properly, they would have been the best ambassadors we could have ever had but we didn’t. We did the wrong thing by them,” he added.
‘Every dollar invested into international education brings at least $1.15 back into our economy. And that’s just the start of the value international students bring to Australia’
— Universities Aust. (@uniaus) September 21, 2020
The panel believes while the effects of the pandemic have and continue to be devastating there is an opportunity for a significant improvement in the relationship between Australia and its international education market.
Megan Lily from AI Group which represents 60,000 businesses across a range of industries said it’s time for a complete rethink.
“We’ve had a cash cow mentality with international education and I think there’s an opportunity for us to think about a better and more sustainable relationship that’s reciprocated.”
“If we keep thinking narrowly about international students… we’ll only get narrow results”
Capp said Covid has created a time of disconnect which needs to be used as a reset or we risk losing the market for good.
“If we keep thinking narrowly about international students, their value and the way they participate in our community and economy we’ll only get narrow results.
“That will be that they underwrite our tertiary education in Australian but it’s so much more and if we don’t start leveraging the relationship, outcomes and recognising and supporting the way in which they contribute we’re really going to miss the boat because every other economy is competing for this market,” she said.
“This is a call to action. We have been working with state and federal government to make a change. It ultimately sits with the federal government but there’s also a role for the community to understand the value which international students bring to the entire economy.”
A recently published nationwide survey of international students and other temporary migrants in Australia suggested that a significant portion are less likely to recommend Australia based on their treatment during the pandemic.