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Why do international students choose to study in Australia?

  • Written by Ha Nguyen, Research Fellow, Victoria University
Why do international students choose to study in Australia?

University education for international students is touted as one of “Australia’s most successful exports”.

International education was worth A$36.4 billion to the Australian economy in 2022–23. Many of Australia’s universities also rely on international student fees to fund their research.

But despite this success, COVID border closures showed Australia cannot take international student revenue for granted. Australia also faces ongoing competition for international students from other English-speaking countries as well as rising competition from countries such as China. As the recent Universities Accord final report noted, the international student market is “volatile”.

Our study looks at why international students want to come to Australia. It then suggests ways we can make the international education sector more sustainable.

Read more: We are hurtling towards a million international students in Australia – migration changes will only slow this growth, not stop it

Our study

Our paper looked at 46 peer-reviewed studies between 1998 and 2023 that examined why international students choose to come to Australia to study.

From this, we identified 22 “pull” factors that drive international students’ choice of Australia as their tertiary education destination.

The pull factors are those that relate to Australia and which we have some control over.

Pedestrians cross a road outside an entrance to the University of New South Wales.
We looked at 46 studies on why international students choose Australia. Dean Lewins/AAP

What we found

The five most frequently reported reasons Australia appealed to students were:

  1. career opportunities and life experiences

  2. quality education and qualification

  3. cost of study and living

  4. migration prospects and policy

  5. reputation of tertiary education institutions and academic staff.

Further analysis showed environmental factors (those related to living in Australia) had more influence on students’ decision-making than academic factors (those related to study).

This means factors such as career and life experiences, a safe environment and a student’s proximity to their home country were more important than a quality education or qualification, or the reputation of an institution.

But the analysis also shows academic factors are still of course important and cannot be ignored.

Our main competitors

Australia needs to be careful to maintain its position as a desirable place for international students to come and spend precious time and money.

The United States and United Kingdom are Australia’s biggest competitors for international students. Both easily outrank Australia in prestigious international university rankings. So it is difficult for Australia to compete with the US and UK on academic terms.

But Australia is facing rising competition in both academic and environmental terms from traditional source countries such as China and Malaysia.

Asian destinations mean students do not have to travel as far from home. More importantly, many Asian universities, particularly in China, are rising in world university rankings.

People seated at desks, working and reading in a public library.
Australia faces competition for international students from countries like the US, UK and China. Pixabay/ Pexels, CC BY

How does Australia stay competitive?

Australia needs to think carefully about how it will remain competitive and attractive for students. There are four key ways it can do this.

First, it can ensure adequate support for international students to be employable in Australia when they graduate. Australian universities should guarantee international students work experience in their field of study.

Second, there also needs to be a clear migration pathway for international students who graduate and get a relevant job. As the recent migration review noted:

Australia is not focused enough on capturing high-potential international students.

Third, we need to broaden our academic reputation. At the moment, international students are concentrated in some metropolitan universities.

Australia needs to promote the academic and environmental benefits of studying in regional areas. There may be different courses on offer and opportunities to see different parts of Australia. In addition, when studying in regional Australia, international students can earn points towards their skilled visa applications.

Finally, we need to promote pathways between vocational education (such as TAFEs) and universities. At the moment Australia does not do much to promote the possibility of studying at TAFE first and then moving to a university course. We looked at studies that showed some students are deterred by highly competitive university entry schemes. This is especially the case with some Chinese and Vietnamese students who then apply to study in other countries.

By promoting these pathways, Australia can also attract those willing to be trained in areas where there are skills shortages.

Read more: 'Very few companies are open for international students': South Asian graduates say they need specific support to find jobs

Authors: Ha Nguyen, Research Fellow, Victoria University

Read more https://theconversation.com/why-do-international-students-choose-to-study-in-australia-226815

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