Eduvation Blog

Across Borders, Down Under

Good morning!

It’s Thursday, so this must be day 4 of 5 on the theme of internationalization. (ICYMI, part 1 looked at prospects for the US, part 2 for Canada, and part 3 the importance of visa processing, WIL, and getting back to campus this Fall (with a review of CdnPSE’s plans so far).

As one loyal reader pointed out, I’m not covering ALL aspects of inbound and outbound mobility, partnerships, TNE, curricular change and internationalization at home. My focus this week has been on what has happened since the pandemic began, and the implications for institutional budgets – so this week at least, we’re mostly looking at the intentions, mobility and trends for international students, and the strategies some countries and institutions have been using in response.

Today, let’s look at the happenings and prospects for Australia and New Zealand, where closed borders and a greater dependence on international enrolments has resulted in even more disruption, job cuts, and innovative approaches to TNE. We’ll also see the forecasts from international agents in Asia, and a bit more about how international ed is being “weaponized” for political purposes…




Australian universities in particular are much more dependent upon international enrolments than most countries – and their borders have been closed even tighter for the past year…


Charter Flights to Australia

Australia has weathered the COVID19 pandemic so well because of government’s willingness to lockdown the economy and close borders at the first hint of an outbreak. It’s what has made it possible for the economy to start recovering, and life to return almost to normal much of the time. But for the 3rd-largest export sector, education, airtight border closures have been a disaster: Universities Australia reports that revenues dropped A$1.8B last year, and at least 17,300 jobs were lost. It looks as though that damage will be compounded in 2021. Charles Darwin U is one exception: they brought 63 students in from Singapore last year, by chartering a plane and arranging quarantine facilities, and they are hoping to bring 700 more in 2021, starting in April.  ABC


Dependence on China?

Although the pandemic has knocked education down from Australia’s 3rd to its 4th largest export, enrolments are more diversified than many other sectors of the country’s economy. China accounts for 49% of traded Australian goods, half of mining and 32% of agricultural and fishing exports – but just 31% of higher ed. (India contributes 16%.) “If our education sector is to be criticized for selling too much to China, then the resources and agricultural sectors should be criticized even more.” In Australian universities, 38% of doctoral researchers are international students, and more than half of research funding comes from international student fees. While it can certainly be dangerous to allow our institutions to become over-exposed to a potentially fickle market, “the way to hedge against volatility and uncertainty is not to abandon a market.”  Sydney Morning Herald


TNE Opportunities for Australia

A new report from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education examines challenges and opportunities for transnational education (TNE), whether offshore (through twinning, franchise, or branch campuses) or online (explicitly developed for particular countries or markets). TNE can enhance the cultural and economic positioning of Australia, while allowing more students to study in their home countries and reducing “brain drain.” Of Australia’s 84,000 TNE students, 70% are in Singapore, China and Malaysia, although opportunities also exist in Europe, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. Institutions perceive their biggest challenges to be internet firewalls, clear criteria for joint programs, and difficulty transferring proceeds. The report urges better market intelligence, perhaps collectively on behalf of the entire sector (like the British Council), and more formal agreements between governments to overcome many of the risks and challenges to TNE. It concludes that effective price points for online courses may need adjustment, and that the next frontier may be online programs tailored to specific countries and markets, shared online platforms with partner institutions, and potentially MOOCs and microcredentials.  Melbourne


TNE 2.0 is Online and On-Campus

We’ve seen many institutions worldwide (particularly universities) experimenting this year with online delivery to students living in campus residence, or in study centres abroad. Several Australian institutions are now delivering curriculum online to students studying in Shanghai. Starting in March, “Uni Sydney, with Study Group Australia through its Taylor’s College pathway provider, are combining with Shanghai Institute of Technology to do this at the new Sydney Shanghai Centre.” U Western Australia reports that >50% of its Chinese enrolments are studying at learning centres at 4 partner institutions: Nanjing U of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Northeast Forestry U, Southwest U, and Soochow U. (They also have learning centres for articulation students at 3 other campuses.) Monash U opened its own site in Suzhou last year, for freshmen who may be able to transfer to Australia in 2021.  Campus Morning Mail


A Decade to Recover?

Simon Marginson, director of the Oxford’s Centre for Global Higher Ed, says international student mobility will take at least 15 months (early 2022) to return to pre-COVID levels, but that Australia may have to wait 5-10 years to fully recover. He predicts that student mobility will resume unevenly, starting with countries with relatively low pandemic casualties in South East Asia, and that high-demand countries like the US, UK and Germany will recover within 2-3 years of a return to “normal.”  PIE News



New Zealand

New Zealand has managed the COVID19 pandemic more effectively than any democracy in the world, thanks to able leadership by Jacinda Ardern, and a strict commitment to a “COVID zero” policy. But of course, NZ universities have paid a price. As part of the country’s $52M recovery plan for international education, some exceptions are being made to the airtight border closures – but at a price to the students too…


Offshore Pathways

With international students locked out by pandemic travel and border restrictions, many institutions have developed networks of microcampuses or online platforms to deliver transnational education (TNE) to would-be on-campus students. Last fall, Education New Zealand’s 8 universities partnered with UK-based ESL pathway provider NCUK to provide new options for overseas students to start their NZ education in their home countries. The Global NZ Education Pathways initiative will offer 3 flexible paths into NZ universities, through NCUK’s International Foundation Year program (focused on ESL, study and cultural skills), International Year One program (allowing students to start first year courses at >80 approved study centres in 30 countries), and Pre-Master’s Program (focused on advanced academic ESL). Students will have access to >$300,000 in scholarships annually. Intakes begin March 2021, and students will ladder into NZ programs, online or in-country, in 2022 or 2023.  PIE News


Pathway Sites in China

In January, the NCUK announced the first of two uAuckland International Study Centres in China, to open Mar 1 at the International Business School of Beijing Foreign Studies University. The move expands on NCUK’s existing network of Study Centres, and uAuckland’s existing undergrad and postgrad partnerships with BFSU, to offer pre-university preparation under the uAuckland brand. “This collaboration with NCUK and the University of Auckland, both already partners of our university, opens up new opportunities for our students and provides a March intake which is of interest to many students.”  PIE News


Border Exceptions

Last October, the government of New Zealand announced that 250 international graduate students would be allowed to enter the country, starting with some in November, and the remainder through 2021. Priority will be given to PhD students conducting research that requires them to be on campus. The students will need to spend 14 days in the government’s “managed isolation and quarantine” facilities, and take a series of COVID19 tests.  PIE News

Then in mid-January, the government announced that 1,000 international undergrads caught offshore when borders were closed will be allowed to return gradually to the country, beginning with 300 students in April. Institutions will nominate students for government approval, with those closest to graduation a priority. Again, they will spend 14 days in government quarantine, at a cost of $3,100, and will need to apply for a new student visa at a fee of $250. That, compounded by airfare costs and a new requirement to demonstrate $20,000 to cover living costs, may be prohibitive for some students. There has been no word about additional financial support for international students. PIE News



Decline of Globalism?

With rising populism, geopolitical tensions, and of course border closures and air traffic disruptions due to the pandemic, many wonder whether the momentum of international student mobility will be permanently reduced post-COVID…


A Post-Mobility World?

With growing travel and border restrictions, geopolitics, concerns about carbon footprints of travel and other “friction” for cross-border education, 4 international ed experts suggest we may be moving into a “post mobility world.” Instead, we can expect growth in TNE, whether branch campuses, microcampuses, study abroad centres, overseas collaborations and 2+2 agreements, scaled global online education or internationalization at home. TNE provides global perspectives to more students, opportunities for staff development, a pipeline for future enrolment, enhanced visibility and reputation abroad, enhanced relationships with overseas government, access to international employers and work experiences, and a global alumni network. But TNE needs to be developed with meaningful engagement with the local context, and not merely be “a pale version of our home campus projected thousands of miles away.”  PIE News


“TNE is a political act undertaken in a world of increasingly aggressive application of hard and soft power – in a progressively more risky and turbulent world where neoliberalism and globalisation continue apace but are also continuously challenged.”David Pilsbury, Jenny Lee, Hillary Vance and Fabrizio Trifiro



International Ed “Weaponized”

Student mobility is becoming increasingly politicized, thanks to populist and xenophobic movements, but it has also been “weaponized” by some governments seeking geopolitical leverage. The Trump administration attempted to cancel thousands of visas for Chinese students, China and Taiwan have imposed reciprocal bans on students, and China has threatened to restrict student flows to Australia. “China is trying to influence geopolitics through international education,” affecting partnerships, research funding, offshore campuses and more. To manage the political risks, institutions must build more multilateral relationships, and individual students and researchers need to do the same.  Times Higher Ed


“Sadly, international education has been weaponised. Learning abroad is no longer just about serving individual students’ educational needs and institutional partnerships, but about nation-states’ political, diplomatic and economic agendas.”Ly Tran, Prof of Education, Deakin U



When I discussed the implications of Canada’s declaration about the Uyghur genocide on Tuesday, I should have remembered this example from 2010 (thanks for prompting me, Dan Seneker)…


uCalgary Delisted by China

In Dec 2009, uCalgary conferred an honorary degree on the Dalai Lama – the thoughtful spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a unifying symbol of the Tibetan state, who has been in exile in India since 1959. In 2013 he was voted the most popular world leader (tied with Barack Obama) – but certainly not with the Chinese government. Other universities had given the Dalai Lama honorary degrees in the past, including UBC, without repercussions – but in Feb 2010 the Chinese government removed UofC from its list of accredited institutions. This prompted confusion and anxiety among the 600 Chinese students at UofC, many of whom reportedly transferred, and new enrolments reportedly dropped from hundreds in 2009 to a dozen or so in 2010. Then-minister of advanced education Doug Horner and then-president Elizabeth Cannon travelled to China in Oct 2010 to negotiate, and by April 2011, uCalgary regained its accreditation there.


Globalism at Risk?

Denis Fred Simon, an expert on Chinese affairs and formerly the executive VC of Duke U’s joint campus with Wuhan U in China, is concerned by the way that escalating Sino-American tensions have focused on security concerns about education and scientific collaborations. Even in times of turbulence, academic cooperation previously “held the relationship together,” but now “have themselves become the source of disagreement and tension.” Recognizing emerging economic competition, American and Chinese universities need to establish a code of conduct to respect IP and open access, and address issues of academic freedom and self-censorship by students abroad. The COVID19 pandemic has caused a surge in nationalism, “globalism is at risk,” and international education “hit a brick wall.” But, Simon observes, “innovation is occurring because of necessity… We can deliver more value through technology than we appreciated. If COVID19 has done anything, if it has caused us to think outside the box a little more, then that’s a good thing.”  Chronicle of Higher Ed



Agents are Optimistic

Rather than end on a discouraging note, here are some more optimistic forecasts for 2021 and beyond…


Optimism for India

Many analysts expect outbound student flows from India to rebound quickly in the wake of the pandemic. With a population of 1.4B and a fast-growing economy, India has 500M young people and nearly half of the population will belong to the upper-middle and high income ranges by 2030. India’s new National Education Policy aims to boost PSE participation, research, university rankings, and 4-year undergrad programs in particular. In 2019, >750,000 Indian students went abroad to study, particularly in the US (26%), Canada (19%), and Australia (15%). Since 2015, enrolments have declined sharply in the US while skyrocketing in Canada. There has also been growing acceptance among Indian students of blended delivery models during the pandemic, or programs that begin online to transition to on-campus later.  ICEF Monitor


Optimism in India

International agents throughout Asia reported up to 40% fewer outbound students for Fall 2020 compared to 2019, but many were more optimistic about 2021. Those in China and South East Asia are projecting a return to 80-90% of 2019 levels in early 2021, and a full recovery by late 2021. Agents in South Asia (India) are far more “bullish,” though, forecasting 4% growth in the first half of 2021, and new student flows 25% higher than 2019 by Fall 2021. The real question will be not if but where they choose to study abroad.  Navitas Insights


Agents Worldwide

A recent survey of 775 agents in 19 countries across 5 continents finds that 86% are optimistic (63% “highly”) about the rest of 2021 – primarily because they expect travel restrictions to lift, COVID19 vaccines to be distributed, and job opportunities for students to improve. They seem confident in their abilities to recruit students through largely online means, but 84% are ultimately concerned that student entry restrictions could continue due to the pandemic. Canada was far and away the most popular study destination for clients of 62% of these agents, while just 22% sent students to the UK, 8% to Australia, and 2% to the US. Canada became “even more popular” during the pandemic because of flexibility in study and work permits. The study authors predict, however, a rebound in US enrolments thanks to the Biden administration’s vaccination efforts, and change in tone on multinational cooperation and immigration.  ICEF Monitor


“While e-learning may indeed have tenure in one form or another, it’s unlikely to become a substitute for the experience of studying abroad… The desire to encounter unfamiliar cultures, immerse oneself in a new language and learn how to live in a different country will not be lost to the pandemic.”Linda Cowan, Managing Director, Kaplan International Pathways



Tomorrow, a look at international student trends in the UK, more TNE approaches, and because it’s Friday, more reasons for optimism! Stay tuned!


I’m always delighted when readers take the time to write! Thanks to Lisa Brackenridge for bringing this to my attention…


Quarantine Warriors

Kunall, a 4th-year international student at uWaterloo, filmed his journey from Dubai to Ontario in January, so other students could better understand what the travel, customs and quarantine process would be like. This 2-min video speeds right by the flight, but focuses on requirements at the Toronto airport (fresh mask, COVID19 test, study permit, declaration card, ArriveCan receipt), and the ground transportation and hotel arrangements included in the Waterloo Student Quarantine Package. (Plus a welcome pack and Zoom support group.) He sure makes it look easy!  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading! And while I’ve got absolutely no shortage of topics for future issues, let me know if there’s something you would particularly like me to tackle!

 Be safe and stay well,



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