‘Closed sign’ keeps State lagging in luring students
WA punches below its weight in attracting international students because of unhelpful policies and ineffective inter-national marketing, education experts say.
Speaking at an Australian Institute of Management WA and The West Australian CEO Voice roundtable this week, Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Deborah Terry said WA had 11 per cent of Australia’s population but just 6 per cent of its international students.
“Going back 10 years, this was sitting at 10 per cent when WA had 10 per cent of Australia’s population,” she said.
“The universities are working as much as we possibly can in collaboration in this area, but there are some policy settings working against us. Those issues are understood by the State Government, it’s whether we can see any changes.”
WA Private Education and Training Industry Association chairman Malcolm Baigent said WA had a “closed sign” up in terms of international perception.
“WA institutions are working more closely than they ever have before, making joint investment into strategies to try to bring more students into WA,” he said.
“Study Perth and the State don’t have the level of investment required, then the WA Government makes changes to skilled migration and to the skilled occupation list and unfortunately WA now has a closed sign on it, according to agents and people we talk to.”
He said a broader challenge was that international education was a mature market.
“It’s not like you can go out to China or other parts of the world and find untapped pockets of international students,” Mr Baigent said.
Stanley College chief executive Alberto Tassone saida further challenge, particularly regarding China, was that Perth was seen as a mining town.
“In China, mining is the lowest level of achievement one can have,” he said. “It’s considered dirty and dusty and nothing to do with the future and technology. We need to work on the reputation of Perth as something but a mining town.”
Phoenix Academy principal Robynne Walsh suggested the Perth proposition should be around technology. “If mining is something considered in China as dirty and an undesirable profession, then the focus should be on the technology behind the success of mining,” she said.
Ms Walsh said she also wanted to see the term “tradies” abolished. Germany and Switzerland used the term “professional diplomas” instead.
“I really hate that term. We have to stop using it,” she said.
On domestic and international students, University of WA deputy vice-chancellor David Sadler said expectations were changing. “If we look at the whole retraining, upskilling and the fact jobs of the future will be fundamentally different, we need to think much more about other types of education, including micro credentials and short courses, as well as the traditional structure,” he said.
Study Perthexecutive director Phil Payne noted a recent Queensland research trip where it was clear international education was well integrated with workforce planning, migration, tourism, trade, investment, TAFE and schools, as well as local authorities.
“They clearly knew each other very well, knew each other’s business and were working in harmony to the advantage of the international education sector,” he said.
“Only the State Government can co-ordinate those players but they have to identify international education as a priority.
“All the successful States have international education in trade or economic development, because of its significant status as an export revenue generator.
“But international education also needs to be closely aligned with tourism. It’s early days as international education has only been in the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation for just over a year, so I am hopeful.”
Sheridan College principal Natalie Leitao said there needed to be a sensitivity and understanding of the sacrifices being made by international students, to help them navigate the challenges. “As a provider we need to know how to assist them to settle into a Western style of living and education,” she said.
AIM WA chief executive Gary Martin said on international students there may be relief in sight with the WA Government to release an international education strategy in coming weeks.
Professor Terry cited funding challenges for universities. Commonwealth support for domestic students is capped at $228 million, irrespective of the number of enrolled students.
Murdoch University Vice-Chancellor Eeva Leinonen said the funding challenge presented opportunities, including the need for universities to look closely at themselves.
“We need to look at what we do, how we do it, and how we can perhaps do things a bit differently,” she said.
“That’s not just in teaching and learnings but of course co-operating as institutions and in our interactions with external organisations.
“In our new strategic plan we talk about wanting to identify the ‘front door’ of the university. What we really mean is ways the external world can come into the university and understand its benefit. Vocational training is part of that.
“My sense is the vocational training and universities are joined up but not as joined up as we should be.”
North Metropolitan College managing director Michelle Hoad said there was great opportunity to collaborate for the best outcomes.
“The speed of change in the economy, effects of automation, AI, the gig economy, the rate at which jobs are changing is incredible,” she said.
“The whole lifelong learning situation is not about one career. It is about reskilling to fuel economic development. So some of the characteristics of the VET sector are really suited to come into their own.”
Edith Cowan University senior deputy vice-chancellor Arshad Omari said providers were playing ineach other’s patch yet didn’t understand each others patch.
“I sit on North Metro TAFE board and it’s quite a different world (from ECU) in the way the students enrol and the way the courses are delivered,” he said.
“We need the whole education sector from school to university and beyond to be delivering in a common framework.”
State Training Board chairman Jim Walker said collaboration was necessary given education was not just about getting a skill today, but adding to it as the nature of jobs changed.
He said Rio Tinto had put in $1 million for South Metro TAFE to develop automation technology.
“So you are seeing industry come back in and put money where its mouth is, which is a change we haven’t seen for some time,” he said.
Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker cited her group’s Perth Perceptions Survey released this week, which found people over 65 expected to have continuing employment and a transition between full-time employment and retirement.
“Therefore, a lot of the target market could be older people who want something quite different to the young,” she said.
Curtin University guild presidentLiam O’Neill said although there was demand for short courses there were a lot of undergraduates who still viewed the traditional semester model as ideal. He said students faced challenges, with many needing to work and study full time.