Competition Threatens Australia’s Higher Education Sector


Australia faces challenges to maintain its status as a premier higher education provider due to intense global competition, warns a Senate inquiry. The 200-page interim report, released on Thursday, highlights the need for the tertiary sector to prioritize quality and integrity to sustain international student growth within Australia. Fierce global competition, economic changes in source countries, rising living costs, negative student experiences, and poor graduate outcomes are identified as significant factors affecting future students’ choice of study destination.

The report recommends a five-year national plan, named Team Australia, to strengthen the international education brand and a market diversification plan. This includes efforts to attract students from sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, South and Central America, and a more integrated approach to the country’s migration and education settings to attract the “best and brightest.”

However, the report emphasizes the need for tough decisions to address “persistent and deep-seated” integrity issues within the vocational education and training sector. It suggests prioritizing “quality over quantity,” potentially cutting back on lower-quality students, especially in the lower end of the private VET market.

The recommendations include a 12-month pause by the vocational training regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), on accrediting new overseas student education providers. It also proposes requiring providers seeking to offer courses to international students to have operated and delivered to domestic students for at least 12 months. Additionally, the report calls for increased resources for ASQA’s compliance and enforcement to ensure stronger oversight.

These “bold suggestions” are considered necessary to address concerns over the sustainable trajectory of growth in student numbers and the quality and integrity of providers, especially in the private market, according to Julian Hill, a committee member. The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia, representing independent providers, agrees that the reputation for quality is crucial but contends that the recommendations would be detrimental to the sector and should not be accepted.

The report also addresses the university sector, emphasizing the need for the federal government to ensure universities are less dependent on international student fees for funding research and private investment portfolios. It calls for collaborative efforts to attract international students and overcome fragmented approaches in the market.

Australia, like many countries, grapples with balancing the economic benefits of international students with maintaining high standards in education and ensuring a positive experience for students.

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