With Australia’s borders open and the once lucrative international education sector showing signs of a return, those in higher education are closely monitoring the number of foreign students entering the country.
Yet there is another side to the globalization efforts of universities that seem to have disappeared from the radar: Australian students moving abroad to study.
Ask any expert about the value of international higher education education and they will be quick to point out that far too often we focus solely on the financial impact of overseas students coming to Australia.
International education, the experts will tell you, is far more than the number of international student visas processed by the Australian government to enable the completion of an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification in this country.
In any case, it is about delivering courses that make use of global expertise, case studies and examples.
It is also about the educational partnerships and networks that institutions and their students are forging worldwide and the value that comes from Australian student mobility.
Before the pandemic started in 2020, Australian universities made steady progress in balancing the balance between incoming international students and outgoing Australian students.
Pre-pandemic, Australian students had many opportunities to learn abroad, even if the admission rate was modest.
Depending on what was studied and where, there were opportunities for Australian students to participate in faculty-led study trips abroad, attend summer or winter programs at foreign universities, or spend a semester or longer studying at a international host institution.
Australian students also increasingly gained access to international experiences by studying in Australian branch campuses abroad.
For example, Curtin University has established branch campuses in Malaysia, Dubai, Singapore and Mauritius.
Those campuses not only cater to the educational needs of students in those countries who want to obtain an Australian degree without having to travel abroad, but also offer great potential for Curtin’s domestic students who want to study abroad without going to another university. having to switch.
According to data collected in 2019 by the Australian Universities International Directors Forum, 58,000 students from 34 institutions participated in a university learning experience that took them outside of Australia.
Previous annual AUIDF surveys have shown the slow-growing popularity of learning abroad initiatives among Australian students.
In 2015, 14 percent of graduating students took part in learning initiatives abroad, rising to 19 percent in 2019. Then COVID struck and Australia’s borders were closed.
There is no AUIDF data to reflect the situation beyond 2019, although it is highly likely that even with the reopening of international borders, Australian students will stay at home for the time being.
As the Australian university sector takes steps to return to global education, higher education leaders must take learning abroad to the next level for locally enrolled students.
While attracting international students will remain important, equal attention should be paid to the globalization of the learning experience of domestic students through a renewed but more prominent focus on opportunities to learn abroad.
Despite the steady increase in Australian students’ interest in studying abroad, their enthusiasm lagged far behind that of their peers in Europe and the US.
The hesitation is partly because we invest far more resources in recruiting international students to Australia than we promote, encourage and support domestic students to learn offshore.
Learning abroad is often life-changing and can bring benefits to the individual, the country and the international community.
It has become apparent that students who have studied abroad are better able to work with people from other countries, an important achievement at a time when global political tensions are mounting.
And with many companies looking to enter lucrative international markets, companies that employ graduates with global experience are likely to serve you better.
There are compelling reasons for the Australian higher education sector to embrace a broader conception of international education. It will result in a focus on attracting incoming international students and encouraging outgoing learning for our own students.
• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management WA