NZIEC 2017: Some quick reflections on a whirlwind trip to Auckland.

On the flight back to Australia, I got the opportunity to reflect a little on the New Zealand International Education Conference I had just attended in Auckland.

Overall, a fun, though slightly tiring, slog across the Tasman. I got to meet a heap of new people in and around the conference and was lucky enough to be involved in two sessions.

On Tuesday, I spent 30 minutes talking to delegates about how to build the analytical mindset during my session called Getting started in the Data Game. Mostly, I was emphasising the base skills needed in analytics and how to apply a problem solving methodology to approaching strategic problems in international education.

As I was saying in the session, the Big Data age isn’t necessarily about hording large amounts of information, it’s more about using the large amount of information out there to generate valuable insight. It’s about turning the intuitive into the analytical. Thanks to those who stayed around at the end and asked questions and also those who took the time to come up and say after how much the enjoyed the talk.

If you want to know about my take on big data, analytics and international education, my article that I published in IEAA’s Vista magazine early in 2017 is still highly relevant. You can read the full document by clicking on the link before.

On the Wednesday I was roped into participating in The Great Debate, pitching Australians versus New Zealanders against each other and discussing the topic whether New Zealand should look to Australia in terms of international education. I was fortunate enough to be teamed up with two excellent and knowledgeable Victorians, Stephen Connelly from Global Ed Services and Amanda Pickrell from the Department of Economic Development in Victoria.Note to self, I think the timing of the conference dinner was tactical to prevent me being at my best (though, not that it would have really mattered).

Comparing NZ to AUS inventions for the Great Debate!
The Royal Family kept us entertained at the NZIEC conference dinner.
Team NZ during the Great Debate.

Our opposition, Roger McElwain, Tony O’Brien and Katy Mandeno from New Zealand took us on, and debated in great spirits, despite some not so gentle ribbing of our respective nations on each side of the pitch. Generally a undercurrent of mutual respect was evident, and I think those who were there to witness it would have got something out of it. Cheers also to the superb moderation skills of Mariama Kamo.

Overall, I have to say it seemed an excellently run event and would not hesitate to recommend future iterations (New Zealanders have mastered the art of producing edible conference food!).

I really wish I’d had the opportunity to see a bit more of Auckland, but with the amount of pressing work to be completed for both my sessions, it limited me to working alone in my hotel suite for most of the days I attended.

Thanks go out to Sam Mackey at the New Zealand Government and also Bridget Harris of Verve Consulting for helping me get over there.

IIE release next iteration of Open Doors data

It’s International Education Week in the United States and that has prompted the Institute of International Education (“IIE”), America’s premier professional association for international education research, to release the next iteration of the Open Doors report. For those in the know, the Open Doors report is a vital tool for measuring the flow of students around the world. While heavily US focused it’s nonetheless an excellent tool for examining student flows – even from Australia.

I’ve picked out some quotations from the press release of interest.

IIE has also highlighted how the US administration view international education as a vehicle in which to solve future problems:

“International education is crucial to building relationships between people and communities in the United States and around the world. It is through these relationships that together we can solve global challenges like climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, and combating violent extremism,” said Evan M. Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Things are interesting from a data point of view as well:

The number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education increased by eight percent to 886,052 students in 2013/14, with 66,408 more students than last year enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States. This marks the eighth consecutive year that Open Doors reported expansion in the total number of international students in U.S. higher education. There are now 72 percent more international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities than were reported in Open Doors 2000, and the rate of increase has risen steadily for the past four years.

It seems that Australia isn’t as golden as once was in attracting US study abroad students

There were declines in the number of American students going to China, Australia, Argentina, India, Mexico, Ecuador, Israel, Chile, and New Zealand.

Australian international education market performs well in ICEF agent barometer

The ever comprehensive ICEF Monitor has published some early results from their eight annual agent barometer survey (co published with iGraduate).

Given the lifting on the ban on foreign agents in US institutions, it is perhaps not unexpected that agents would be referring more students to US institutions – the barometer reports that 80% of agents expect to send more students to the US.

Australia places highly in the metric, with around about 68% of agents stating they’ll be sending students down under. Promisingly for Australia, only 27% of agents reported issues with students getting visas – down from 43% the year before, whereas over half of agents thought Canada was the most difficult.

The report specifically highlights Australia, stating:

Perhaps not coincidentally, at the end of 2013 the Australian government began easing visa rules for the non-university sector and generally reassuring the international higher education sector that it would receive more attention and support from the government.

With visa approvals being a strong indicator of future enrolments, such an indicator is good for the Australian international student market.

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!