Reap what is sowed: keeping international students

Reap what is sowed: keeping international students

Reports show that Australian higher education continues to be well-sought after, but the bulk of those expressing interest to pursue further studies in Australia are actually foreign students.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Education at a Glance 2019 report showed that Australia is among the countries with the largest share of foreign student intake.

This comes as no surprise, as the international student population has always been growing in the past few years. Moreover, the report also showed international students – especially those from Asia – are still attracted to Australian tertiary education despite high tuition fees.

This is evident in the number of students in higher education, with foreign students taking up 48% and 32% of the total population of those taking up master’s and doctoral programs, respectively. Foreign students also make up 40% of doctoral graduates in Australia, way higher than the 25% share in OECD countries.

The OECD’s report showed that 34% of foreign students come from China, while some 14% are from India.

In 2018 alone, the Australian Department of Education reported that China and India are the top two sources of international students, with enrolment figures yielding 152,591 and 71,857 students, respectively.

In an article published in The Conversation, Jihyun Lee, an associate professor at UNSW’s School of Education, said that interest from international students to take up post-graduate degrees here makes up for the lack of interest from nationals themselves.

In its report, the OECD further explained that Australia manages to attract more international students than send out its own to study abroad. In fact, the OECD said Australia receives 28 foreign students for every student it manages to send out to study overseas.

With the influx of foreign students, June data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that international education generated $32.4bn for the Australian economy from 2017 to 2018, an increase from the $28.1bn contribution from the previous year.

This is aside from the possible workforce, as well as the social and cultural diversity Australia can gain from taking in these foreign students.

But here’s the catch: despite taking in a lot of foreign students, Australia does gain much additional skilled workforce as they move back to their home countries after completing their degrees.

To make matters worse, the Federal Government in 2017 only gave permanent visas to a mere 4% of foreign students, while only 16% were only given temporary visas.

Solutions offered
Associate professor Lee suggested that to keep Australia’s higher education sector population afloat, the government should try to encourage younger generations to take up STEM post-graduation degrees.

This goes hand in hand with the Federal Government providing better incentives for individuals with higher-degree programs to stay in the country, especially those with STEM degrees.

Enticing foreign students in the STEM field to stay can help make up for the mere 17% of adult nationals (those aged 25 to 64) that pursued further studies in the STEM field.

“We then need to try to retain more of the foreign-born higher-degree holders rather than sending them back home,” Associate professor Lee said.

“Being afraid of an influx of Chinese or Indian students who will contribute to development of innovation and technological changes in this country should become a thing of the past.”