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International Students: Exactly how Difficult is it to gain a place in an Australian University?

by Ellen Wardle

Education is big business, being Australia’s third largest export, according to ABC News . The international student market has skyrocketed over the last two years, now reaching above $30 billion per year. Yet, even with this industry booming, one of the major draws for an international student to look at completing an overseas degree, social and cultural integration in the hyper-globalised world, seems to be one of the major things holding these students back.

In 2017 higher standards for English Language testing were pushed through by Education minister Simon Birmingham, who had acknowledged that lacking English skills was a problem for lecturers and tutors, producing less-engaged students. International students were faced with the prospect of up to twenty hours per week of ELICOS classes to help level the playing field and ensure they met national requirements. Language and communication are of course at the forefront of social and cultural integration, an imperative task when it comes to gaining the best possible experience from an international qualification.

International Student Requirements

To obtain a place at an Australian university, foreign students will need to have completed their education at the same or higher level as the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Students will also need to be approved for a Student Visa (Subclass 500). Prior to applying for their visa, students must be accepted to study full-time at an educational institution in Australia.

Each university has a different set of prerequisites for international entry, aside from the new IELTS standard. Typically a band 6.5 for English is needed to obtain a placement within an Australian university, however, the score varies from degree to degree.

Pressure to Succeed

For some students the pressure to succeed is immense – with families re-mortgaging or selling their family homes to pay for their child’s education. Often students are exploited in Australia by businesses looking for cheap labour – meaning that students sometimes find themselves working too much to study adequately for the intense degrees they are completing. Students might also find difficulties integrating – particularly if their cohort is largely students from the same country of origin.

Many of these issues have been addressed by Chinese students: A state-run newspaper published concerns about the efficacy of Australian universities and state irritation over the Higher Education sector in Australia treating Chinese students as ‘cash cows’.

Some students have also expressed dismay at the lack of cultural diversity within certain courses. Business degrees overrun with Chinese expatriates have caused disgruntled students. This has been due to internationals feeling that they have not been able to gain the full experience of living in a foreign country when their cohort is so similar to what they had at home. Given the Turnbull government’s 2018 HECS-HELP loan changes, which could potentially lock future students coming from low-income backgrounds out of universities due to the lower repayment threshold and rising rent prices in university-adjacent suburbs and cities – less and less Australian students might be able to help their international cohort get the full international experience.

Because of these integration issues, university cohorts – both online and in real life – become invaluable resources for students. With students learning about their working rights, housing opportunities and conversational English via online open education platforms such as youtube, Facebook groups, or podcasts.

Skills Gap

There is a defined gap in the market for social integration regarding international students, which can trickle into the job market locally and abroad.

“Social skills are important in the modern labor market because computers are still very poor at simulating human interaction. Skill in social settings has evolved in humans over thousands of years. Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances.” Les Picker writes, in accordance with findings published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There’s no lie that Higher Education in a foreign country can create an intercultural connection invaluable to an increasingly western and globalised knowledge economy – particularly within our global online society.  An inherent understanding of western idioms and culture becomes paramount for market value – the appeal of an international degree in the jobs market. These days, it seems that the lack of integration for foreign students, lack of higher earning potential, and poor treatment is lessening the appeal. It also depends on the future market value of a degree within a home country if returning to that home country is within the students plans.

International Students and Economic Growth

For many international students however, staying in Australia is an appealing prospect – and another factor to consider in maintaining the industry and co-opting this into further economic growth. The socio-economic benefits of a skilled, tertiary educated workforce are many. The wealth of human capital is advantageous when looking to create future reforms. The capital that a socially responsible, community-first organisation designed to benefit international students should be considered within economic reforms in order to maintain the education industry. As it is, international students – who are subject to a much more upfront billing regarding their university fees than locals – remain the key driver in the financial growth of the Higher Education sector.

There is an argument to be made on the business spectrum of Higher Education – for this to remain a stable export in future,  the quality and draw to the degree must be maintained.

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