I have posted quite a lot lately on the revolution in learning which is leading to greater emphasis on student-centred approaches to education, and innovations in technology which are eliminating the need for traditional ‘local’ classrooms and reliance on textbooks for information. For higher education in particular there have been a number of implications. The international student market is becoming more competitive; online learning continues to grow in popularity; and there are initiatives to integrate academic literacy and language support into course curriculum, and more investment in various other student retention programs such as Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS).
There have been some interesting articles and research findings about the international higher education market in recent years, specifically the experiences of institutions in Australia, the UK and the US with international student enrolments, and the experiences of international students in these institutions.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate a 4% decline in international enrolments to March 2012 from the same period last year. The numbers across the board for all levels of education were considerably worse with an 8.5% drop (in contrast to average yearly growth of 6.5% since 2002, representing a decline of almost $4 billion from the peak in 2009). Recent declines in enrolments have been largely blamed on stricter student visa requirements and a strengthening dollar, and visa requirements have since been relaxed again.
This experience is not unique to Australia. The United States has also experienced a decline in international student enrolments (despite a weaker dollar) and has also recently relaxed student visa requirements. The UK has continued strong international student enrolments, however new rules for student visas only came into force in April of this year, and a new British Council report suggests that these changes could have a dramatic and negative impact. This same report also predicts that with relaxed visa barriers, Australia should continue to lead the way in international student recruitment over the coming ten years. I’m always a little sceptical about these hindsight explanations, so it will be interesting to see what happens in international enrolments in these countries over the next year or so as a result of changes to visa rules.
Attracting international students involves more than simply making changes to student visa policies, and retention of these students is also a growing focus within higher education institutions. A report published by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council in 2010: Addressing the ongoing English language growth of international students discusses the findings of The English Language Growth Project – a survey and analysis of around 800 international students over five Australian universities- and makes sixteen recommendations to higher education institutions based on the findings (summarised in the first ten pages).
It’s quite an interesting document, and while the study specifically refers to English language development of international students at universities, the recommendations broadly reflect the new approaches being taken to teaching and learning at the tertiary level, and also has relevance to teaching and learning generally.