The pandemic has hit international education markets worldwide hard, but some countries are showing signs of recovery more quickly than others. IDP Connect client director Andrew Wharton said data observation from the last two years shows “a steady decline in interest in Australia,” adding that all destination markets took a hit due to the onslaught of COVID-19.
“At the time of the pandemic, we saw each of the key destination markets have a decline in demand,” he told Study International. “Other markets, including Canada, the UK and the US bounced back pretty quickly, within three or four months, but Australia continued to decline.”
Deteriorating interest to study in Australia was apparent in certain markets, including India. Two years ago, Australia took a 20% share of demand from that market. Today, that figure has plunged to 9%, said Wharton.
Significant decrease in interest from Indian students
IDP Connect’s New Horizons research shows international students consider migration incentives and employment opportunities when choosing where, what and how to study. “We’ve seen a significant decrease in interest from Indian students looking to study in Australia,” said Wharton, who said a key motivation for Indian students’ decision to study abroad include migration and face-to-face learning opportunities.
Their Crossroads surveys — which examined attitudes and intentions of international student applicants — shows Indian students are struggling with online learning.
“I think it’s primarily because they didn’t have the hardware and the internet connection to have an enjoyable [online learning] and satisfying experience. They were doing their courses on mobile phones and with a poor [internet] connection. So that’s what we’ve seen has happened,” he explained.
‘Green shoots of positivity’ for Australia to reclaim its international student market share
International students in Australia have a negative interpretation of Australia following its strict border closures and lack of clear communication from the federal government over a timeline for their return to Australia. But Wharton said there are “green shoots of positivity.”
These include the approval of pilot plans in New South Wales and Victoria to facilitate international students’ return to Australia and the approval of China’s Sinovac and India’s Covishield vaccines, which could pave the way for Chinese and Indian students’ return.
Wharton said if Australia can communicate a roadmap towards a large-scale return of international students, with clear pathways towards employment and migration outcomes, Australia could be in a good position to retain its status as a leading study abroad destination.
Results of the New Horizons research shows that a majority (79%) of respondents are only considering overseas on-campus options. Wharton believes Australia’s border reopening could be a tremendous opportunity for the country.
Australia faces skill shortages in certain areas of the economy, and policies could be placed to bridge those skill-shortage gaps by incentivising international students to study in those areas, said Wharton.
“One statistic that really struck me that I feel supports that opportunity relates to students who weren’t considering Australia as a destination country, wanting to study science, technology, engineering, math and allied health — those types of skills shortage subjects,” he said.
“We asked them if Australia brought in migration incentives to study their chosen fields of study, would that bring Australia into their consideration set? And 64% said they would.” He believes this could allow Australia to take some ground back and get students who hadn’t otherwise been considering Australia as their study abroad destination.
Their New Horizons research also shows that strong drivers for international students include migration incentives and post-study work rights. “If you can offer those two things to two students, that could have a very positive impact,” he said.