Overseas student numbers have surged at Australia’s universities during the past few years, and there are predictions that Australia will overtake the UK as the world’s second most popular destination for international students in 2019. Here, Mark Falvo, Vice President, International, at Torrens University Australia, shares his insights.
1. How many international students are currently studying at Torrens University and where are they from?Torrens University has a uniquely diverse student demographic. We currently have 104 nationalities represented with a strong Latin American and Asian presence. Our international student cohort has grown organically as a result of the strong demand for Torrens University’s industry-immersive Australian university programs, which equip students with employability and entrepreneurship. We now have more than 5,500 international students enrolled at Torrens University and international student retention of over 90%.
2. What are some of the biggest opportunities and/or challenges higher education providers in Australia face, specifically in relation to international education?
One of the biggest challenges faced by most universities is mono-cultural classrooms, where you find predominantly one nationality studying a particular course. It’s a challenge because international students come here to experience Australian culture, but when they arrive they find that many of their peers are actually from where they are originally from.
The majority of universities in Australia have an international student cohort of over 40%. This means there is a real opportunity to recruit from a wide variety of countries and ensure a diverse mix of students, which we have made a concerted effort to do at Torrens.
We have more than 300 programs on offer, so we aren’t limited to traditional MBA and IT courses. There’s an opportunity to enrol students in design, health, hospitality, education and English courses which might not traditionally attract a lot of international students.
Because we are Australia’s only true multi-state university, one of our biggest challenges is attracting students outside Sydney and Melbourne. International students are drawn to our campuses in these cities as they are such well-known destinations. Enticing students to Adelaide and (to a lesser extent) Brisbane is more difficult as they aren’t as well known, even though they have just as much to offer in terms of lifestyle. As a country, I would say we need to get better at selling regional destinations.
3. Recent reports have indicated that Australia is overtaking the UK as the world’s second-biggest destination for international students. Why do you think this is?
The ability to work and study at the same time and to have an opportunity to stay in Australia after you finish your studies is a huge drawcard for international students. Australia has a high-quality tertiary education system so students feel that they get real value for money out of their experience. Our institutions have excellent international reputations and are used as models for other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia is a very welcoming country and it is widely understood that education is one of the country’s biggest exports, so there’s a lot of focus on ensuring that international students have a positive experience. Additionally, the lifestyle in Australia is alluring. Living standards for students are some of the best in the world. Australia has five of the 30 best cities in the world for students based on student mix, affordability, quality of life, and employer activity – all important elements for students when choosing where to study.
4. How do international students benefit Australia?
Having world-class universities means we attract more than half a million international students every year. They contribute significantly to our economy (the value of the international student market is now worth $32 billion), but also make our communities more vibrant and help to revitalise key city centres such as Adelaide. Some of our international students end up staying on to live and work in Australia, and this diversity of cultures is incredibly valuable to our multicultural society. It is also a benefit for Australian students to study with students from different countries; they internationalise the experience for our local students, giving them great insight into different cultures.
5. Do you foresee international student numbers continuing to rise as rapidly in Australia?
The Australian government plans to have a million students studying in Australia by 2025 and we are on track to achieve that. I think that the growth from certain markets like China and India might plateau in comparison to places such as Columbia, Brazil and Africa – so what will likely change is where our international students are actually coming from.
6. How can Australia achieve consistent growth in international student numbers in the future?
Attracting students from a wide range of countries is crucial for future growth. As a higher education provider, if you are too heavily leveraged in one country it’s a big risk, so diversification in terms of source countries is key. Additionally, universities in Australia need to continue to offer affordable, high-quality education options to students from all over the globe.