Australia may take decade to regain international student share

In the view of Simon Marginson, director of the UK’s Centre for Global Higher Education, it would be “sensible” for institutions to plan for a mix of face-to-face and online education, much it is as it is now, until some time in 2022 when normal inbound mobility will hopefully have been restored.

“In some countries, there will have been significant mobility in the interim period”

Speaking with The PIE, the globally renowned University of Oxford professor and commentator on global education & mobility, said he believes it is unlikely that we are going to see a Covid-19 vaccine rolling out across the world before 2022.

“In some countries, there will have been significant mobility in the interim period, but in others not much at all,” Marginson suggested. “But the market rebounding, I think, will be uneven.”

Marginson predicts that market recovery is more likely to be “rapid” in countries where they’ve been relatively low levels of casualties during the pandemic period, such as Japan, South Korea, South East Asia.

“Also the market will rebound fairly quickly in the high demand countries, and there I include the US and UK and Germany, where currently there is now an inward movement in international students,” he continued.

“In all three of those cases, I would expect – potentially at least – the recovery of the market over two or three years after things go back to ‘normal’.”

However, Marginson said he predicts that Australia will face a much longer recovery period before it returns to pre-Covid levels of international students.

“Australia, I think, faces a more difficult road because it’s shut down decisively and it was very highly dependent on international student mobility,” he said.

“And it’s not quite as prestigious as the US and the UK in terms of the English language countries. So it will recover because it has many advantages and a very well organised industry, but it will recover more slowly in terms of absolute numbers.”

Regarding the period for Australia’s recovery, Marginson said it could well take up to a decade.

“I would think you’re probably looking at a five- to 10-year period before Australia will go back to the half a million students coming in every year,” he added.

A total travel ban for non-residents or citizens has meant almost no new international students are able to arrive in the country – although one pilot flight for international students into Darwin has raised hopes that more will follow.

Speaking at a UUKi conference earlier in the year, Marginson said the “impressive” shift to online delivery has created a question of quality, adding that online provision systems need to be ramped up in the northern hemisphere to prepare for an academic year that will be predominantly or wholly online that is “likely to persist into 2021”.

Asked if universities should price differently for online programs, he said: “If online is going to become a longer-term substitute for face-to-face learning, as it will in some cases, it needs to be seen as a substantially different product… and it will need a separate pricing structure.

“[Australia] will recover because it has many advantages and a very well organised industry”

“The idea that we charge exactly the same price for any kind of online [product] as we charge for face-to-face has to go,” he said.

In addition to a keynote from Simon Marginson next week, The PIE Live virtual summit will be offering topical debates on issues from employability to digital innovation, as well as country focus panels which will provide the latest insight and opinion on the market landscape.

Leading commentators such as Phil Honeywood of IEAA in Australia and Nick Hillman of HEPI in the UK will share the virtual stage to discuss the road ahead beyond Covid-19 in their respective nations.

To find out out more about The PIE Live visit here, and follow the hashtag #PIELive on social media to keep up with the latest happenings from the four-day event.

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