COVID-19 - a timely International Education reset for Australia

18/02/2021 | 2 minutes

Callum Cowell, Director of UWA's Global Engagement Office, provides his thoughts on International Education in Australia, post COVID-19.

The full extent of the damage being wrought upon the International Education sector in Australia by our COVID-19 border closures is yet to play out. Continuing representation to government for some adjustment of border control settings to allow student entry is admirable but likely to remain futile for quite some time to come.

Those who view COVID-19 simply as an obstacle to get past, such that operations can return to a familiar “pre-COVID normal” are missing an important opportunity. Somewhat perversely, COVID-19 may well be a kind of blessing in disguise for the sector. Wise institutional players are using this period to re-imagine a different future for international education: one where the much cited “cash-cow” commercial aspect is moderated to some extent. This is not to say that the financial imperative to revive a strong international student recruitment program will be any less: indeed restoring as much of that vital revenue input as possible, will be a key priority. However the likely quantum of the recruitment output will almost certainly have to be moderated and its configuration must be more flexible and adaptable to the yet-to-be defined post-COVID paradigm.


A well considered reset of International Education in Australia would significantly enhance our offering and may well present to the world an even better catalogue of the very best of Australian Universities, VET, ELICOS and Schools.

There will likely be a stark institutional choice for students.

1. Institutions who choose the opportunistic short term operating model that is primarily about quick revenue gain, will be exposed for the shallow proposition it represents to truly discerning international students seeking high quality education outcomes. Domestic stakeholders (including government) will be similarly underwhelmed and not served well either.

2. Institutions who are prepared to take a more holistic and altruistic approach to global education engagement: one which builds multifaceted meaningful international institutional partnerships as well as relevant, high quality education & training outcomes for individual students, will ultimately receive respect, longer term reputation benefit and in due course, a more sustainable financial reward.

In reality it is more of a continuum than a case of being either 1 or 2. Achieving something closer to 2 is the more admirable objective, but it will not be something for International Departments to pursue in isolation. Success will only be possible with a top-down, whole-of-institution buy-in and long term commitment. Those institutions who do pursue this path will be doing Australia proud and deserve our support and encouragement.

Callum Cowell
Director, Global Engagement
The University of Western Australia

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