The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) released a consultation paper in March 2021 focused on an Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030. The paper looks at data and trends influencing international education and the government’s new proposed strategy to 2030. The document also includes discussion questions to gather views on the proposed outline of the Australian Strategy, which you can find on its final pages.

The consultation paper is entitled “Connected, Creative, Caring: Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030.”

International education is in uncertain times

International education is seen as one of the real educational success stories in Australia, delivering educational, social, cultural and economic benefits. But we also know how deeply COVID-19 has affected it. This has been particularly severe on Higher Education institutions and English Language Colleges, along with very significant downstream effects on all the other accommodation and support services for international students. It has also affected spending on retail, tourism, institutional staffing and research.

To compensate delivery has moved online and offshore, and the sector is said to have displayed “innovation, flexibility and resilience,” but there is still considerable uncertainty about the longer-term effects, including shifts in global and political power and economic volatility in countries overseas. And, when we reopen Australian borders more widely, which markets will remain viable? So, sustainability is the key focus.

Data highlighted in the strategy show a mixed picture of the impacts of COVID-19 and border closures, so that:

“By December 2020, enrolments in higher education dropped by 5 per cent, while enrolments in VET increased by 9 per cent, driven by many onshore students, who have continued their studies or transferred providers or courses.”

In addition, “enrolments also dropped in traditional pathway sectors such as ELICOS (33 per cent), schools (20 per cent) and in non-award courses (34 per cent).”

China has been dominant in providing student numbers but commencements from China to December 2020 “declined by 26 per cent, while commencements from the rest of the world declined by 21 per cent, resulting in an overall global commencement decline of 22 per cent.”

A new strategy?

Australia already had an international education strategy, current until 2025. However, this new strategy takes us out to 2030. Its vision is to continue to build our reputation for a distinctly Australian education, research and training which is diverse and sustainable. It will aim to deliver the best possible student experience for all students throughout their studies and post-graduation and “promote ongoing alumni engagement that fosters a lifetime connection to Australia.”

It seeks to “build deeper connections between education providers and industry” and “embrace innovation and new technologies to enhance existing and new modes of delivery.” It will also attempt to ensure that “Australian students to gain the benefits of an international study experience.”

The priorities include putting students at the centre and “delivering for the future” by exploring approaches for “academically rigorous digital delivery, blended learning models delivered offshore and online to expand Australia’s reach in educating new cohorts of students around the world,” including “emerging partner countries and broader regions within established partner countries.” Another approach proposed looks to “offer short and highly targeted courses through micro-credentials.”

Finally, it seeks to ‘thrive through diversity’ by diversifying the range of “country partners, student profiles, destinations, sectors, courses, and student experiences and opportunities” and ‘setting standards’ to “ensure quality is maintained and upheld regardless of where our international students are when they are studying.”

Providing feedback

To send your feedback, you can read the Consultation Paper and review the discussion questions. This set of questions aim to gather views on the proposed outline of the Australian Strategy, which you can find on its final pages.

You can also send them your feedback using the submission form by midnight on the 12 May 2021.

The timeline involves submissions, sector consultation workshops and webinars until around the end of May, finalising the strategy in June and then having the Government consider it.