Perth – university city: the great branding opportunity



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In marketing Perth as a destination for higher education to international students, branding communication should focus on marketing Perth as the destination, rather than promoting the individual institutions, WA Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Sue Ellery has told a CEDA audience in Perth.

At the Higher education review with WA’s Vice-Chancellors event, Ms Ellery talked about the government’s higher education objectives, where it sees higher education heading, and the challenges and opportunities of attracting international students.

Ms Ellery discussed the brand work that needs to be done to position WA as a top-rated international student destination of choice.

“We’ve got to have consistent messaging and marketing. We have got to decide and focus on our key markets, and try to not cover too many,” she said.

“International education involves so many more industries than just education and as a result, responsibility under this government for international education has been placed in the new department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation.

“However, I, as Minister for Education and Training, will be participating in how we shape and chart our future direction in international education. To that extent, I’m really excited to be joining the Premier, and two of my colleagues: the Minister for State Development and the Minister for Tourism, and a delegation, on a trip to China later this year as our first foray into making sure that we brand WA as the university town of choice for Chinese students.

“I’m really looking forward to that – it was one of the recommendations that came out of the higher education consortia and the planning is well underway. I think there are endless opportunities available to us and starting in China is a good place to do it.”

She said that evidence and research would be important, and when the delegation are in China, she will particularly be focusing on looking for new potential research partners. Speaking more generally about the government’s plan for higher education, she described higher education as being one of the government’s key strategies for diversifying the economy and the state’s innovation agenda.

“We want to sponsor science industry fellowships to build the relationship between WA companies and our universities,” she said.

“We want to collaborate greater with our state’s educators and industry to identify new future job opportunities that can be generated from the rapid development of information processing, automation, robotics, and some of the more niche markets where we know new jobs are popping up and where we know young people are particularly interested to work – for example, in the gaming and app development area.

“We will be introducing a future health and research innovation fund – this is a very significant investment to make WA a world-leader in medical research and innovation.

“We will be fostering an innovation economy as well through the development of innovation hubs. We want to foster structured interactions between government, universities, business, industry and the community to drive the development of those hubs and identify future opportunities.

“We also think that while collaboration between universities is good, it can be so much better – and so we really want to encourage each of the universities to work more closely together, to the extent we are able to facilitate that.”

To encourage future university collaboration, she said the government would be ensuring planning laws allow for higher density developments within innovation hubs, and would be reviewing existing legislation to ensure land is available for use within these hubs. Speaking on the financial reality of the government’s investment, she described the state’s finances as being in a “dire” state, but acknowledged the proposed Commonwealth Higher Education Reform Package may offer some assistance.

The Minister’s keynote presentation was followed by a Q&A session chaired by Leadership Psychologist, Ryk Bliszczyk, and featured a panel of WA tertiary education leaders, consisting of:

  • Vice-Chancellor and President, Edith Cowan University: Professor Stephen Chapman; • Vice-Chancellor, The University of Western Australia: Professor Dawn Freshwater;
  • Acting Vice-Chancellor, Murdoch University: Professor Andrew Taggart;
  • Vice-Chancellor, Curtin University: Professor Deborah Terry AO; and
  • Associate Vice-Chancellor, CQUniversity Australia: Professor Trevor Davison.

The panel continued the discussion started by Ms Ellery, and questioned whether WA was an attractive destination for international students, and what could be done to make it more attractive. Professor Davidson addressed the fact that “something has gone wrong recently” with regards to declining international student levels. Professor Terry substantiated this with some startling statistics.

“If we go back to 2005, WA was 10 per cent of Australia’s population, and we had 10 per cent of Australia’s international students. Fast-forward to now, we are 11 per cent of Australia’s population and in terms on university students we have dropped to about 6.3 per cent. So, this is a major issue,” he said.

Professor Taggart emphasised again the need for a united approach from the Perth universities.

“There are some fundamental challenges to our universites. We need to put a united front to the world that says: this is Perth – university city. And Perth is the message, as the minister has pointed out,” he said.

He also discussed the importance of student experience, stating students would be the biggest ambassadors for universities, and that it was crucial to foster industry connections that would offer employment outcomes for students.

Speaking on the issue, Professor Freshwater posed the question: “In the context of an industry that is a $22 billion export industry, how do we turn an increasingly interconnected and mobile higher education and research sector into social and economic gain for the state and the nation?”

“We can’t do this on our own… We’re in a zeitgeist where higher education is being described as merchandise. And we’re turning out what is being described as oven-ready graduates. These are some of the things we have to think about in terms of the challenges posed.”