There are numerous favourable reasons why international students opt to study in Australia. A review of the literature pertaining to the topic published over the last 5 years throws light on these reasons. Some of the major reasons include cost-effectiveness, multi-racial academic environment, prospects for employment after graduation, precedent of successful immigrant integration into society, government support for overseas students, etc. But the review also revealed how there are some issues of racism and political conservatism that discourage international student enrolment. Nevertheless, on balance, the favourable reasons outnumber and outweigh the drawbacks. The rest of this paper will highlight the array of reasons why international students choose to study in Australia, while also indicating the negative factors gleaned from the research.
It is a reflection of the attractiveness of Australia as a centre for higher studies that it ranks third among a dozen competing nations in the market for overseas education. On the latest available statistics,
“the education market grew 77 percent worldwide in the decade beginning in the year 2000. Australia is engaged in an ongoing race for the maximisation of its share. Currently it ranks third, equal with Germany at seven percent share of the total number of international students worldwide. The US and the UK are first and second respectively, at 18 percent and 9.9 percent. France is after Germany and Australia and has 6.3 percent, while Canada has 4.7 percent.” (Ramia, Marginson, & Sawir, 2013)
Australia is one of few countries that have a specialized welfare program for its international students during the entirety of their stay. Except for neighbouring New Zealand, no other leading country in the overseas education market has taken to this direct regulation approach. In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, generic laws pertaining to universities and life on campus also govern the safety and behaviour of international students. In Australia, there is the robust Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Framework that serves as the main instrument of regulation within the campus. After having been enacted into law in 2000, the ESOS Act offers a comprehensive set of guidelines for universities in the National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Training to Overseas Students of 2001 (or the ‘National Code’). While international students find the protections and rights provided by these laws and codes as attractive, some social phenomena of recent years has given cause for apprehension. As a result, public debate rages on about student life in Australia, with concerns beign raised about honouring international students’ human rights. This controversy was intensified by
“a series of violent attacks in Melbourne and Sydney on students mainly from India, though other Asian students have also fallen victim, and not only in the larger cities. Yet ESOS has little to do with racism or personal safety. More avid followers of international education point to issues stemming from students migrating permanently upon the completion of their studies. Other matters include the protection of student tuition fees, public transport concessions and problems for students in accessing adequate housing and health care.” (Ramia, Marginson, & Sawir, 2013)
A strong incentive for overseas students to study in Australia is expectations from potential employers. In the globalized work environment, employers are looking for qualities such as cultural adaptability and bold decision making in the candidates. By virtue of enrolling in Australia international students display that they possess both these qualities. The workforce of a Multi-National Corporation is subject to periodic transfer from one work location to another. This could span the entire globe and hence an understanding of various cultures is a great asset. Those international students who come to Australia from developing countries such as India, Pakistan, China, South Korea and Eastern Europe are exposed to the capitalist-consumer culture prevalent in Australia to go along with their earlier experience in emerging economies. (Hassam, 2007, p.73) This makes them more suited to the trans-global nature of MNC operations. Moreover, employers are always looking for
“talents and characteristics that set candidates apart. The modern job market has witnessed study abroad emanating as a differentiating factor. The international student has displayed initiative that has led to an increased understanding of the world. In many cases, these applicants are more culturally aware and possess the adventurous spirit that lends to the productive, creative thinking necessary to excel in any organization or company.” (Martinez, 2011, p. 25)
Cultural, ethnic and national diversity within Australian campuses is another source of attraction to international students. Apart from the core syllabus, experiencing this diversity is an education by itself. This sort of education has its utility beyond considerations of employability. In other words, this extra-curricular experience prepares the international student for a life-time of interaction with people from various cultural, racial backgrounds.
“It fosters debate, generates mutual respect, and provides perspectives otherwise unfamiliar to students hailing from different areas of the world. Learning that takes place through dialogue can be just as pivotal to a group as lectures from a professor. Can a classroom really expect to generate a rewarding discussion about the theory of art, behavioral psychology, or the logistics of government without the viewpoints of the skilled musician from the inner city or the talented actress from suburbia? The same idea applies to learning that is done overseas; however, diversity is increased exponentially.” (Martinez, 2011, p. 25)
There is a strong political dimension to overseas student intake in Australian universities. The individual university board has limited powers in terms of setting quotas and eligibility criteria. But it is the broad governmental policy framework which is the engine behind the flourishing Australian education market. Like the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth government of Australia thinks of its international education project as a pillar of the country’s image to the rest of the world. The Colombo Plan was one such devise, whereby a substantial stream of students from south and south-east Asia were offered world class higher education in Australia since 1950. Today, educational links are sponsored directly “by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through AusAID scholarships and through funding agencies such as the Australia-Japan Foundation, the Australia-Indonesia Institute, the Australia-China Council and the Australia-India Council (2005).” (Trevelyan, 2010, p.101) This strong government involvement and interest is behind the success of Australia as a favoured overseas education destination.