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2010 was an eventful year for Australian (international) higher education (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September 2010). Events culminated in mid-December with a joint announcement by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, and the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, of a review of the country’s student visa program. The stated aim of the review is two-fold—to ensure the integrity of the student visa programme while also strengthening the country’s international education sector, which is perceived to be weakening in the face of a declining number of international students, the global financial crisis and increasing competition from other countries. In the context of what the federal government has promised to be a thorough and strategic review, education providers as well as other key stakeholders will be given the opportunity to share opinions and visions about the future of international education in Australia.
The new review endeavours to build on a number of other steps recently taken by the government to strengthen Australia’s international profile and the actual international student experience in the country. Notable is the December 2010 government announcement of an International Students Strategy (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, December 2010). Australian international education advocates may also be gratified by the results of a government sponsored and administered International Student Survey 2010, conducted between late 2009 and mid 2010 and involving more than 50 000 respondents. Overall, this revealed good news about foreign students’ satisfaction levels with their Australian experience and feelings of personal security. Some 86% of the respondents indicated that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with living in Australia, while 84% felt this way about studying in the country. Less rosy (according to the survey) were the students’ perceptions of job opportunities and the cost of living in Australia. Still, large majorities of respondents cited four factors as “important” or “very important” in terms of influencing their decision to study in Australia: the quality of teaching (94%), the reputation of the qualification (93%), personal safety (92%) and specific institutional reputations (91%).
Australia is still a powerful player in the global international student recruitment game. Whether the newly introduced measures, including the planned student visa review, will serve to strengthen Australia’s position in this area remains to be seen.