Current trends in international education in a global context

Australia is in an unusual position when it comes to international education. Unlike other countries, international education has long been a key element in the nation’s prosperity and growth.

It’s the country’s third largest export after iron ore and coal, and in 2013 was the largest service export.

And it seems more and more countries are figuring out what Australia has known for a while: the revenue generated from international student enrollments can have massive benefits economically.

As a result, the market has become fiercely competitive. Students now have more choice than ever when it comes to studying aboard, forcing universities to re-think their marketing and recruitment strategies.

Speaking at last week’s International Student Recruitment and Marketing Conference, Professor Monique Skidmore, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at The University of Queensland, shared that while the industry is seeing a growth in totally mobile global students, the entry of new players has resulted in a decline of international enrollment in major universities worldwide.

“In 2012 five destination countries hosted over one half of totally mobile global students. The US hosted 19 per cent, the UK 11, per cent, France seven per cent and Australia and Germany at six per cent.

But the top five also saw their share of international enrollment decline from 55 per cent in 2000 to 47 per cent in 2012. In our part of the world Australia and Japan are rivaled and will soon be eclipsed by new comers like China, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and New Zealand,” she said.

So what strategies can universities use to remain relevant in the wake of new competition?

Professor Skidmore believes it all comes down to brand and capacity building from research excellence and seeking research funding through partnerships with some of the best universities and private organisations in the world.

“In the last decade an emerging key strategy to build and maintain a prominent global position has been through partnerships and consortia. Virtually all the world’s top 50 universities are creating several significant university corporate industry partnerships as part of their global strategy,” she said.

Despite the importance of partnerships, according to Professor Skidmore this strategy is in its intensification phase now and will globally only last for another five years as a key strategy.

“In five years time most of the large universities will have finished their partnership strategies and settled on how many partnerships they’re going to have and resource,” she explained.

The University of Queensland is using a tri-lateral partnership model where they are partnering with global private companies who also have links to some of the top universities worldwide.

“We choose for example a big mining company or engineering firm and we find out which top 50 universities in the world that company is working with, and then we partner with that university as well. That’s how we’re creating out partnerships and then commercialisation comes with this,” Professor Skidmore said.

While partnerships certainly have a big role to play in driving international student numbers in Australia, the take home message from the event last week is that universities don’t need to settle on international student numbers that are consistent with their overall university financial sustainability.

“I think these numbers have to settle around niche product demand in various modes. Universities need an onshore and offshore and online strategy and settle and agree on the delivery of student loans. Setting targets and strategies around competitor analysis, future higher education demand and partnerships will be crucial,” said Professor Skidmore.

If you’d like to find our more about our International Student Recruitment and Marketing Conference drop us an email at or call +61 2 9229 1000.

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