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Event Recap: The International Education Market - What it means for Victorian Businesses

25 May 2016

ACBC Victoria’s annual Education Forum was held on 25 May last week at Westpac, welcoming over 100 guests to hear about what the international education market means for Victorian businesses. The day’s proceedings began with a panel discussion chaired by Professor On Kit Tam, RMIT University and Chair of the Education & Training Working Group. He was joined by panellists from sectors such as secondary and tertiary education, financial services, property, tourism and government. Their expertise combined to produce an insightful and informative discussion about the current and future impact of Victoria’s international education sector.

Mr John Allmey, Senior Investment Specialist, BT Investment Solutions, Westpac Group, spoke of the ‘mining to dining’ transition currently underway in the Australian economy and explored how this related to China and our international education sector. Post the mining boom, the Australian services sector has grown substantially. This has been in part driven by the Chinese market and the ASEAN community. Australia is attractive for a number of reasons, one being that it is viewed as a safe environment, and another being the lower Australian dollar. Our monetary and fiscal policy is therefore supporting the demand from the Chinese market and resulting in not only a healthy international education sector, but also increased property investment, retail trade and tourism numbers.

Mr Damian Tkalec, Head of Greater China Aeronautical Team, Melbourne Airport, emphasised the clear opportunities for synergies between international education and tourism. 20 years ago at Melbourne Airport, 1 in 10 people travelling to Australia were from China. This ratio is now at 1 in 5, and by 2020 it is expected to be 1 in 3. However in the face of growing competition from the US and Canada, it is important that a number of practical steps be taken to ensure we are able to capitalise on future prospects. One of these includes an ability to target second tier cities and to shore up links with airlines. In order for this to happen, Victoria needs to be able to present a proposition which conveys how business will be built and sustained. A final point stressed by Damian was the need for Melbourne to play to its strengths as not just a tourist destination, but a place one can call home.

Mr Tim Ada, Executive Director, Trade and Investment, DEDJTR, State Government of Victoria, also discussed the benefits for the Victorian economy stemming from international education. 3000 jobs are created by the international education market and every four international students provides for one extra job in the Australian economy. Moreover, 20 per cent of Melbourne’s population are international students, contributing to the vibrancy and liability of the city. Tim therefore highlighted the need to focus on strategic links between education and tourism, enhancing the employability and cross cultural competency of students and making certain that student experience is front of mind. An additional point raised by a number of the panellists was also the introduction of measures to help alleviate capacity constraints in order to build up the resilience of the international education sector. Tim also pointed to the Victorian Government’s international education sector strategy which focuses on market development, quality education, student experience and marketing and branding. These initiatives aim to build on Victoria’s globally competitive position as a quality provider of international education in the Asia Pacific region.

Ms Leisl Bruhn, Dean of International Students, Ivanhoe Grammar School, highlighted the importance of student experience in international education. A positive experience, in which international students can forge strong ties with the domestic community and are able to gain work experience and develop soft skills for the workplace, is vital. This will lead to the further promotion of Melbourne and Australia as a destination for international education as returning students share their experiences with among their networks in China.

Finally, Ms Carmel Murphy, Executive Director International, University of Melbourne, pointed to the need for education institutions to work with both government and businesses to enhance international education in Victoria. The potential gains for the economy in having graduates who have either studied overseas in China, or who have come from China to Australia are tremendous. However forging student and industry links, and helping students gain experience beyond the campus in business environments, would contribute a great deal to the sustainability of the international education sector into the future. The panel discussion was followed by an interactive Q&A session with many audience members offering probing questions and sharing their own experiences.

The proceedings continued with a keynote speech from Mr Sidney Myer AM, Trustee of the Sidney Myer Fund and Chair of Asialink. His speech emphasised the importance of viewing international education as not only a product that can be sold, but as a public good and an opportunity to promote partnerships. Links between international education and the government’s innovation agenda can lead to new partnerships in R&D and can allow Australia to secure new capital for investment. Further, the rise of borderless education and digital methods of teaching is currently shaping the education landscape, prompting the need to discover new ways to blend different types of learning experiences in order to enhance Australia’s reputation for quality education.

As a final note, Sidney stressed the need for businesses to invest in building Asian capabilities, that is, the skills, knowledge and networks that organisations and individuals need to understand and engage with Asia. A collaborative outlook between institutions, business and government in advancing the quality of education and experience will mean international students will become champions for Victoria and Australia, ensuring the economic success of the state.

The event concluded with a vote of thanks from event sponsor, Global Business College of Australia and was followed by a networking luncheon sponsored by Moore Stephens. We greatly thank and acknowledge our event sponsors, Westpac, Moore Stephens and Global Business College of Australia, for their generous support of the event. We also extend our thanks to Sidney Myer and to all our panellists for their time and expertise.