Thursday, December 13, 2018

Government Dispersal of Students Threatens Major Export Industry

Yesterday the the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) warned of "Unintended Consequences" from the Australian Governments possible dispersal of international students beyond major capital cities. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) are considering measures to reduce the population increase in Sydney, Melbourne and South East Queensland, to reduce pressure on infrastructure.

The logic behind the COAG proposal to disperse students is not entirely clear. International students make up only a very small proportion of the population of Australian cities. These students are concentrated in inner city areas, in high density purpose built accommodation. They are close to public transport, or in walking distance to their university. As a result these students are not a burden on the infrastructure. In contrast, it is those living in detached houses in suburbs far from the city center, who are a burden on infrastructure. Low density suburbs are expensive to build, support and provide transport for. Far from being a burden, our  international students are showing how the rest of Australia needs to learn to live, to reduce both financial and environmental costs.

International students come to Australia attracted by the quality of education offered by our universities. However, they are also attracted by the lifestyle of our major cities. Students will not necessarily want to attend a regional university, far from the big city attractions.

Australia’s education export industry will face competition from China in the next few years. Last week at the IEEE Engineering Education Conference (TALE 20198) in Woolongong, I attended a talk from a Chinese academic on how they are preparing to provide large scale global education, in English. It is unfortunate that just as Australia's third largest export industry is about to face a major challenge, Australian Governments are considering removing one of that industry's key selling points.

However, I suggest the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC), and other academic bodies, need to do more to plan for new forms of education, delivered in new ways. Offering a pleasant location will not be enough of a selling point if the product is still an on-campus education, in the form of a multi-year degree. One option I detailed in my presentation at TALE 2018 is micro-credentials via mobile devices to students of the Indo-Pacific.

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