Internships, work experience needed for international students in Australia

A recent report into graduate opportunities for international students within Australia argues that in order to be competitive with domestic graduates, international students coming out of Australian institutions need to gain far more practical and work-ready skills in order to compete.

Joint research between Deakin University and UTS, Australian International Graduates and the Transition to Employment, provides some valuable business insight into what prospects international students might face if they choose to stay in Australia and compete with domestic students for graduate positions.

The report indicates that international students may be at a profound disadvantage compared to domestic students in the post-study work environment, even in spite of the changes made to visa conditions after the Knight Review recommendations were endorsed by the previous federal government, stating that “Despite having an Australian qualification in an area of skills shortage, the study found that there are multiple barriers to graduate labour market entry.”

Essentially the report makes five key findings. They are:

  • Local work experience remains a very important aspect of the Australian study experience for international graduates.
  • International students are coming to Australia expecting that upon graduation they will be able to find work here.
  • There is a varying level of graduate demand between different disciplines, with disciplines like accounting, engineering and nursing (the main focus of the Deakin/UTS report) showing an oversupply of new graduates.
  • Employers are now expecting graduates to seamlessly transition into their work place operations, and therefore requiring graduates with demonstrable work-ready skills.
  • Communication skills are key, particularly English language, and this may place some international students at a disadvantage in the local labour market. Therefore both international students and institutions must work to improve their prospects by increasing English language capacity and improving local networks.

There is an obvious lesson to take from this timely report: It’s clear that the value of work placements and internships is becoming a more important part of the international student experience.

I’d hasten to suggest that those Australian universities or tertiary education providers that can build great internship programs – both at undergraduate and postgraduate level – that focus on providing work-based placements will be critical to maintaining the strength of international education in Australia over the coming few years.

I would also suggest that it will be a critical part of keeping up with our global competitors, particularly from those ambitions nations with growing interests in international education.

This is just one issue I’ve cherry picked from the report, which is quite detailed and worth your while. Of course, there are issues in changing the mindset of Australian business to that of international students and the potential value they might add to the wider economic system, and those issues are also considered within the report.

Student mobility, international and the power of data

Too good not to share.

Rob Malaki, Director of AIM Overseas (an Australian company specialising in organising short-course programs for higher education students) has put together a very interesting blog on using data and analytics to empower and measure student mobility. It’s a well-written post praising the power of data for empowering good business decisions in the international student recruitment and mobility space.

Rob makes a very pertinent point about the relationship between data and student mobility:

So where do student mobility teams start looking to answer the data collection/analysis question?
The starting point should be the following principle: measure and track everything you possibly can and use that data to streamline your systems and processes.

I suggest reading the entire article which is linked below.

Value and costs in International Higher Education: In the wake of the G8

The Group of Eight (“G8”), known to those in Australia as a group of leading research institutions, has published a neat summary document of research into the motivations of international students to study overseas, with a particular focus on Australia. It’s not a study in itself, instead gathers together data and research from bodies such as Australia Education International (“AEI”), Hobsons, World Education Services (“WES”), I-Graduate and a number of others. The summary document roughly covers the last two to three years.

The makeup and methodologies of the surveys contained within the summary document varies. Some consider smaller export market samples, while others are wide ranging and very comprehensive (for instance, The British Council in their 2010 study on student decision marking surveyed over 100,000 students from 200 countries).

Taking the G8s analysis on face value, it does seem true that for the vast majority of international students that research and teaching quality is the trump card for those looking for an international experience. Many of the studies consider fees and costs of living and this metric consistently come in second to research and teaching quality. It’s clear that a quality education will always be worth the cost.

Quality is a no doubt an important factor in attracting international students, but considering the relative high cost in tuition in Australia, will quality always trump cost? It’s clear that Australia has becoming an expensive place for foreign students. Recently, HSBC has claimed that Australia is now the most expensive place for internationals to study.

However, they concede that cost of living expenses make up the bulk of this claim – something that may be hard for Australian tertiary education providers to avoid. Worryingly though, competitors, such as the US, Canada and the UK are cheaper places to live and study, and considered equal and higher in terms of quality. Clearly, that’s an ongoing risk, particularly if Australian universities want to attract high-quality students.

Considering that that exchange rate pressures and a high Australian dollar over the past few years have meant that Australia has become an expensive place for internationals, signs that the dollar might be normalising and settling at what many consider a true reflection of its value relative to the USD will be welcomed. Yes, quality is perhaps the most important for students, but it’s clear that cost is still vitally important in the decision making process of prospective international students!

International education: A quick skim through Building Australia’s Comparative Advantage.

While those working in the industry might feel it’s taken for granted given that economic headlines tend to focus on mining and agriculture, Australia’s international education export market is continuing to boom, remaining competitive globally, and often the envy of many other developed nations around the globe.

And yesterday, Catherine Livingstone, the President of the Business Council of Australia (“BCA”), acknowledged international education’s continued importance to the mix and vitality of the Australian economy when the BCA published their report into the future challenges facing Australia’s economic competitiveness in a report entitled Building Australia’s Comparative Advantage.

While the focus of the BCA report is across the breadth of the economy, international education features prominently, with the authors arguing that that international education in Australia is performing well, but there are a number of potential threats on the horizon that might undermine future growth and performance.

The publication is actually in response to another recent report published by consulting company McKinsey Australia Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s Global Competitiveness who were commissioned by the BCA to examine Australia’s current and future economic performance in global markets. The essential conclusion of both reports was aptly summed up by the Business Council of Australia:

The results indicate that, across a range of measures, most industry sectors are not competitive when compared to the US and that the trend in our relative competitive position has remained the same over the last decade.” (BCA 2014: 4)

So with the above in mind, I thought I’d take a quick read through both reports to see what they had to say specifically about international education. The results shouldn’t surprise anyone who has worked in international education in Australia for any length of time.

BCA: Building Australia’s Comparative Advantages

The BCA report goes on to highlight a number of positives regarding Australia’s international education industry:

  • The report forecasts that international education exports could grow to $26 billion by 2020 if the sector can achieve the same market share it did in 2009 (BCA 2014: 17).
  • Along with agriculture, mining, tourism, international education is one competitive market that Australia is competing extremely well in at a global level (BCA 2014: 25)
  • Australia performs very well in attracting skilled migrants and our international education industry is a key driver of this performance (BCA 2014: 25).

However, the report indicates a number of threats that may threaten our ability to compete in global education markets:

  • Australia’s performance is declining in core education measures such as maths, reading and scientific literacy over the past decade leading to a decline in international ranking for our education system (BCA 2014: 25).
  • In terms of issues in the Australian education system, the BCA note the weakness of our VET sector for supplying the future skills to maintain or grow our economy (BCA 2014: 12).
  • Australia is lagging behind other developed countries when it comes to research, ranked at 15 by the World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index, compared to 3rd for the US and 5th for the UK (BCA 2014: 27). This could be an future issue for attracting international students, as academic research has a direct impact on attracting international students, a point directly made in the McKinsey competitiveness report (McKinsey 2014: 32).Furthermore, there a number of recommendations in the report around structural reform of education, including linking research funding to industry collaboration instead of just incentivising having work published in highly ranked journals (BCA 2014: 52).

The BCA report concludes by stating that in order to continue to build Australia’s strength as a global exporter of international education services, Australia should look to implement to recommendations of the International Education Advisory Council which were published back in February 2013 in the Australia – Educating Globally report.

If you recall that report, you’ll recall that the report’s recommendations included specific ministerial level advisory groups on international education within government, as well as new approaches to tackle issues like affordable accommodation and a more diverse international student population.

McKinsey Australia: Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s global competitiveness

Turning to the report compiled by McKinsey Australia, the authors note that international education in Australia will face some key tests in the future as competition for a large future surplus of international mobile students becomes more and more fierce, particularly now since Australia is becoming a more expensive study destination – McKinsey Australia stating that Australia is now 8 percent more expensive than the US and 60 percent more expensive that Singapore (Lydon et al, 2014: 33).

McKinsey highlights an oversupply of 1.9 million student places worldwide in 2020 and notes the potential impact of MOOCs in attracting students to elite universities worldwide. The report makes two forecasts about the future of international education in Australia:

  • That government will have to create a more integrated strategy between education and immigration and deliver a more robust student experience (Lydon et al, 2014: 33).
  • Universities will have to rely on innovation and different modes of delivering content in order to avoid over capacity issues in the future (Lydon et al, 2014: 33).


Essentially both reports paint a good news story about the current state of Australia’s international education industry, but also suggest that in order to maintain our globally competitive export industry, the Australian government along with education providers must continue to support measures that attract international students. It would seem that taking our current position for granted may result in poor future performance and a loss of global market position.


Business Council of Australia. (2014). Building Australia’s Comparative Advantages (pp. 59).

Lydon, J., Dyer, D., & Bradley, C. (2014). Compete to Prosper: Improving Australia’s global competitiveness (pp. 67).


My first cyclocross race: Toowong Memorial Park

On the weekend I participated in my first cyclocross race. Organised by the good folk at Queensland Cyclocross and Bicycle Queensland, it was a tiring, muddy and absolute brilliant experience.

What is cyclocross?
Often shorted to CX, cyclocross is basically a bike riding form where riders take in a course of between 1-3 kilometres in length that includes grass, gravel, hills and obstacles. More than likely, racers will have to dismount to get over various obstacles or carry their bikes up small embankments.

You can ride a mountain bike in the races if you want, but most riders ride special CX bikes – which look like any old road bike but actually have higher wheel clearances so mud and dirt doesn’t clog up your wheels and brakes.

It’s got a rich history in Europe, and a big community in the United States but is only really a fledgling pursuit here in Australia. There is a small community here in Brisbane. And being bike week here in Brisbane, I decided to take part in the season opening event out at Memorial Park in Toowong.

How I got into it

I’ve had a cross bike since about August last year. My friend Wokka had upgraded to a new ‘hipster’ CX bike and was courtesy enough to sell me his old Specialised Tricross. It’s a great bike but I’ve been mostly throwing road tyres on it and commuting and doing the odd off road jaunt on the weekends.

But I’d been keen to ride the bike in the way it was intended and get involved in the community.


Well apart from my usual road cycling and running regime, I did fairly minimal training. I didn’t really know what to expect so I didn’t exactly know what to train for. The fast dismounting and remounting looked the most difficult part of the racing but now with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say it’s being fit enough that is the biggest hurdle for doing well.

Queensland Cyclocross were kind enough to put on a free beginners skill session the week before the race so I headed down to practice dismounts and remounts as well as jumpingover obstacles. We also did some downhill turning at speed.

The two days before the actual race, I headed out on some rides and practiced dismounts and remounts over some natural obstacles for about 10 minutes each session.

The race

I got down to the course about 30 mins before I was supposed to race, but due to a late rugby game at the Wests union club, the start was delayed by an hour. This meant a bit of extra time to practice part of the course and I was a bit intimidated.

The course, I’m told, was ‘hardish’. While a lot of it was on flat grass, it did feature an uphill bit with two hairpins on hills right after each other and that meant you had to descend safetly, turn up hill and gun it, then turn back down and descend again. There was only two dismounts required for the race, up a little stairs near the rugby club house and also a board before a little uphill after a fast grassy section.

photo 4

The heaven’s opened up about 30 minutes before my race, meaning the grass was wet and the dirt got a little bit moist – perfect race conditions!

I signed up for ‘open’ – the race classification for absolute beginners and the unfit. In my race, people used mountain bikes and I think I even saw a single speed road bike line up as well (crazy).

My race had a field of about 14 racers. I lined up near the front and managed to start out fairly strongly, managing to get out of the first turn in fourth position. Which was a great position to be in as I think there was a crash behind me going into the first dismount. The pace was fairly frenetic and I think a few of us got carried away and went too hard too early. I was definitely in this group. I managed to get into second position by about lap three, the first place rider having just taken off in a mountain bike. I held on to this position for about two laps at one stage opening up a good few hundred metres between me and third.

But they gradually clawed me back and I could feel my body running out of steam about 15 minutes in. My chain then decided to fall off after a dismount and I lost a few positions that I then couldn’t make up. Only one other rider then passed me and I’m sure I was in about 6th or 7th place though it was beginning to get tough to figure out as people were getting lapped and falling behind.

My god though, it was hard. I was thinking my running training and endurance would be enough for me to do quite well in open. I was wrong. This is an aerobic sport, meaning you have to go hard 100% of the time. Looking at my Strava ‘suffer score’ it showed that I spent nearly the entire race riding in threshold and above heart rate zone. I swear the race announcer kept deliberately yelling out ‘only 2 laps’ to go every time I went passed the start line. It was almost maddening!

Post race- exhausted and wet to the core.
Post race- exhausted and wet to the core.

Finally after about 30 minutes on the course, the race finished and I got my hands on cleansing ale. I was soaked and exhausted but exhilarated; it was a seriously brilliant event.

I was pretty happy to not finish last and actually was in a good position for a large amount of the race. Fitness and my larger frame didn’t do me any favours but I know what to expect next time and I’ll be better prepared. According to the race organisers I actually placed third “officially”, though I know I was actually somewhere around sixth. I got my very own cowbell for placing!

*Edit*: Actually I did come third – third male in – but I was fifth overall. Not bad for my first race!

Third place cowbell.
Third place cowbell.

Some closing thoughts

Seriously, give cyclocross a go. It will be tough on your mind and body and you’ll push yourself pretty hard, but the supportive community spirit and the sheer audaciousness of the events will more than make up for it!

If you live in Brisbane, the next CX event is at Bowl-o-Cross and the Holland Park Bowls Club on May 11th 2014.

YNAB: Free for college/university students

I’m a big fan of You Need a Budget (YNAB) a straight forward budgetting tool that looks nice and works across the cloud and via app. They announced very recently that college and university students can get the program for free. Here’s some of the details:

We’re fighting free with free. I was given a free t-shirt when I signed up for my first Visa credit card while in college (charged a mattress on it, forgot about the payment, paid it off, and cut it up in disgust—the card, not the mattress).

More kids are graduating from college absolutely weighed down by student debt. I don’t know what portion of their debt is avoidable, but I’m confident that if those students were following YNAB’s Four Rules, they would graduate with less debt.

You can read more via YNAB’s website.

Darragh Murray is an Australian working in international higher ed. Radio production for @4ZZZ. Lover of history, international politics, #running, #cycling, #cx and #arsenalfc.