International education: WA playing catch up but opportunity is there



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Western Australia is playing catch up with international education strategy and resources, Emeritus Professor Tracey Horton AO has told a CEDA audience at the Economic and Political Overview event in Perth.

“International education is Australia’s third largest export after iron ore and coal. Education export earnings were $28 billion in 2017. WA earns $1.9 billion and the sector employs almost 10,000 people across our state,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, in WA we haven’t managed to hold on to that head start we gained from being first to market (in the 1980s).

“Between 2002 and 2012, international education enrolments in WA as a share of Australia’s total, have dropped from around 10 per cent to 6.7 per cent and in higher education from 11.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent. 

“Student visas…granted across all parts of the sector in WA have dropped from a high of around 26,000 to around 22,000 in 2017, and we’re expecting to see further drops following changes that have occurred to the student visa system, and the State Government’s decision to remove Perth from the Federal Government’s regional skilled migration scheme.

“Increasing student numbers requires a balance between diversity of source of countries…and also a focus on growth markets.

“Our top markets for international students are quite diverse but a significant proportion – 68 per cent…are from Asia. 

“Wherever we get the students from, the WA Private Education and Training Industry Association estimates…if we get our fair share based on our percentage of population – just under 11 per cent of the total international student market in Australia by 2020 – that would mean over 30,000 enrolments, $1.4 billion in additional export revenue and 5000 additional full-time jobs not to mention all the other intangible benefits.

“As far as funding to pursue growth…WA has lagged behind the other states for several years now.

“The other state funded bodies have invested in significantly more resources to promote their state as a destination of choice for international students. 

“As an example, in Queensland more than $25 million was committed in 2016 to be invested over five years to complement its international education strategy while Victoria has committed $32 million over four years and South Australia, which is smaller than us, has committed $10 million over four years.”

She said that funding in WA totalled around $2 million a year. 

“Obviously, resources are important and it is going to be difficult to regain lost ground if other states are doing more than us in this space,” she said.

“It’s all about share of mind, and share of wallet.

“We need to develop a very clear value proposition and unique selling points for each of Perth’s key markets with marketing collateral that promotes the state to agents and students and supporting channels such as offices set up in key source markets. 

“There are obvious synergies here with Tourism WA and many states are already ahead of us with regard to these strategies. 

“Other critical areas are costs of living, the availability of good accommodation, transport and local infrastructure and actually most Australian states including here in WA perform very well on those dimensions.

“We must make a better effort to further enhance the student experience in Perth, welcoming support programs…and help create student advocates for destination cities in home countries.

“It is important to recognise economic impact but I do think that trying to reduce the sector to a set of numbers does diminish its far-reaching benefit. 

“The experiences of international students here in Australia and our own students overseas, create powerful long term soft diplomatic ties with the rest of the world and they provide a global perspective.

“Cultural linkages…knowledge exchange, and the development of relationships all act to build our social capital and contribute to successful business relationships in the future.”

Sharing innovation success story

Also speaking at the event was WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Commerce and Industrial Relations; Electoral Affairs and Asian Engagement, the Hon. Bill Johnston who spoke on the importance of telling innovation stories, as well as resources.

“WA’s resources sector has driven technological progress and innovation,” he said.

“We have talked about our favourable location, but not mentioned our world-leading technical accomplishments.
“WA businesses need to be ready to talk about our expertise and capabilities, we need to be ready to seize that opportunity, or others will fill it.

“We are a world-leader in mining equipment technology and services. We have demonstrated industry capability for finding new applications for that technology in a variety of other industries.

“WA is actually the world’s leading jurisdiction for applied driverless vehicles.  

“It is estimated that 60 per cent of global mining software is produced in Perth.

“Local success story, MICROMINE’s software is used at over 2000 mine sites in 90 countries around the world.

“Perth is a hub of scientific and technological innovation; this is the story the McGowan Government is focused on promoting to our trading partners.”

Mr Johnston also discussed the rise of the services sector.

“Modern economies would find it difficult to function without services such as telecommunications, banking and freight logistics,” he said. 

“Our major trading partner, China, is currently transitioning from manufacturing to services. 

“The McGowan Government see this as an opportunity to diversify our economic relationships to include high-value services.

“At a regional level, industrialisation and an expanding middle-class are driving growing demand for services including financial services, aged care, medical and education services. 

“Western Australia has a strong story to tell in all of these sectors.”

AsiaLink Business Chief Executive Officer, Mukund Narayanamurti spoke on Asian engagement and said that risks in the region for Australian businesses included the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, as well as micro economic risks such as corruption and fraud but that on a “risk adjusted basis, the returns were still the best in the region”.

Also speaking at the event was Economic and Political Overview 2018 author and Commonwealth Bank Chief Economist and Managing Director, Economics, Michael Blythe who presented the economic overview and ACIL Allen Consulting WA and NT Executive Director, John Nicolaou who presented the WA economic overview.

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