The WA government has called for a regulator to be established to monitor overseas campuses of Australian universities as well as international student recruitment agents to get rid of unscrupulous operators.
In a submission to the federal International Education Advisory Council, which is considering a national strategy for the sector, the state government said Australia had failed to properly communicate the benefits of international education to the domestic community.
That had led to negative perceptions that it was solely a profiteering industry that robbed locals of educational and job opportunities, in turn fuelling racial vilification of international students.
The government also recommended higher education students be given greater work opportunities while in Australia and activities organised to encourage engagement with local students.
About 50,000 international students who study in WA each year are highly valuable to the economy, each spending on average $11,500 during their time in the state, compared to $810 for leisure visitors, according to Tourism WA.
“This demonstrates that international students, their families and friends could be considered ‘super tourists’,” the state government submission says.
“However, the benefits of international education have been poorly communicated to the Australian community and the contribution of international education is not clearly understood by the general community.
“This is demonstrated by reports in the media of negative perceptions held by the Australian community towards international students …
“Commentators have also made reference to a public perception within Australia that international education in Australia is a commercial enterprise (making money), first and foremost.”
While present marketing strategies focused on promoting Australian education overseas, initiatives needed to focus on promoting the benefits to the Australian community to “dispel negative myths and stereotypes”.
Attacks on international students have affected Australia’s reputation as an international education destination in recent years.
University of WA vice chancellor Paul Johnson said it had been one of the university sector’s greatest failings in the past 25 years.
“While most Australians could effectively explain the benefits of mining, tourism or agriculture to our collective future, the benefits of international education (both financial and cultural) are not well understood,” Professor Johnson wrote in a submission to the advisory council.
“Lack of awareness among other vital stakeholder groups must also be tackled: for example, among some employers who may be unwilling to employ international students; taxpayers and state governments unwilling to extend transport discounts and other general services, for fear that taxpayer funds are being misused.”
Australia also had failed to educate the community about Asia “beyond a superficial level”, Professor Johnson said.
Australian students who studied overseas still preferred North American and European universities, while there were few graduates literate in our neighbours.
“… this is acutely felt in the region,” Professor Johnson wrote.
“UWA asserts that outbound mobility of Australian students is as important as inbound mobility in underpinning a sustainable strategy for international education.”
Professor Johnson called for compulsory language and cultural studies in university degrees, admission bonuses for those who completed a language to Year 12, scholarships to support Australian students to study abroad and greater research collaboration with Asia.
He also raised the need for a regulator to monitor overseas campuses and student recruitment agents.
Unscrupulous education agents working overseas have in the past exploited students with false promises about automatically getting a migrant visa.
Professor Johnson said the present model, which places the responsibility on universities was “inappropriate” and did not allow for “any effective control”.
The state government submission, signed off by the former education minister, Liz Constable, says a regulatory framework similar to that used to accredit migration agents would strengthen the industry and help protect the integrity of the education system.
“This will ensure that prospective students are recruited through education agents who operate ethically and professionally, as well as providing assistance to students in cases of disputes with the education agency,” the submission says.
“Transnational education, if not managed and monitored closely, could pose a threat to the delievery of education to onshore international students due to a potential de-valuing of Australian qualifications.”
The state government, which is developing its own strategy for international education in WA, also called for international university students to be given greater work experience and networking opportunities and job matching services.
Students in vocational courses should be given the same working rights and migration pathways as university students, it said.
“International students graduating from Australian institutions in areas of critical need are an important resource,” the government submission says.
“By completed [sic] their studies in Australia they have an understanding of studying, living and working in Australia.
“They represent a high value human capital that can assist in meeting Australia’s future skills needs.”
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