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!

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