Australian students reluctant to study abroad

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Unlike their counterparts in many other countries, notably America and many European nations, Australian university students show little enthusiasm for studying outside their own nation. Instead, they prefer to stay home.

An American search engine optimisation company called SEMrush reports that Australia “is not under any threat of a brain drain anytime soon”.

According to its research, Australian students are “not eager to leave the motherland to do their higher education in other countries”.

Using Google search volumes as an indicator, the SEMrush researchers found much more interest among local students in attending universities in Sydney and Melbourne than anywhere else, either across the continent or overseas.

But a similar situation seems to be occurring in the United Kingdom: A British Council survey of students living in the UK revealed a 16% fall in the interest in studying abroad, in any form, over the past two years.

Only 18% of UK undergraduates expressed an interest in ‘mobile study’, that is going outside Britain, down from 34% in 2015.

Financial concerns, a reluctance to live far from friends and family, and worries over a lack of foreign language skills topped the list of reasons behind the drop, according to the British Council. (The fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote in 2016 may be a factor too.)

“Political and economic shifts have left young people feeling lost and uncertain about their future,” a council report noted.

But details of the survey also revealed that financial concerns could be the most important of the reasons stated.

Nearly three-quarters of the students who said they were not interested in studying overseas also said they would change their mind “if funding assistance was available for mobile study”.

The new figures appear to contradict an earlier British Council survey, which suggested that 68% of young Britons believed “international experience and a global outlook were crucial to achieving future goals”.

The council’s Next Generation research also showed “real concern that the UK’s exit from the European Union would harm citizens’ future prospects”.

Meantime, the SEMrush research found that Australian students made 3,000 Google searches a month related to local universities. This was followed by a much smaller number for universities in Hong Kong, with 1,300 searches, New Zealand with 1,000, South Korea 720 and Singapore 590.

“We found that while the rest of the world’s undergraduates are fairly keen and comfortable to study overseas, Australian students primarily want to study in Sydney or Melbourne, followed by Canberra,” said Olga Andrienko, head of global marketing with SEMrush.

Andrienko said the interest that Australian students did show in attending a university in the Asia Pacific was not a big surprise. This was because of the region’s proximity and also the “state of the art facilities that some of these uber high tech countries do offer”.

“A large part of South Korea’s economy is reliant on its fast-growing higher education sector,” she said.

“This year, the number of foreign students studying in South Korea increased by a record high of 18.8% and exceeded 123,800 students. [But] Hong Kong also attracts a lot of international students, providing social programmes and degree courses in English.”

Andrienko said SEMrush researched all the major Australian cities as well as the states and territories.

The study found that Australian students want to study primarily in Sydney and Melbourne, which were equal in interest with 39% of the searches each, equating to more than 70,000 queries per month.

Increasingly attractive destination

But Australia has also become an increasingly attractive destination for international students, with record numbers now making up more than a quarter of enrolments at some universities.

The latest data from the Australian Department of Education shows the number of international students attending university in Australia increased by12% in 2018 compared with the previous year.

As at June 2018, according to official figures, 324,000 international students were enrolled in Australian higher education, up from 221,300 in June 2015 – an astonishing 46% increase.

Even so, a report by Universities UK last year noted that Britain was the second most popular destination for international students after the United States with 450,000 foreigners enrolled in its universities.

Last November, the US-based Institute of International Education released its 2017 Open Doors Report on American students who study abroad as well as the international students studying at higher education institutions in the United States.

At that time, more than 325,000 US students “had received academic credit for study abroad”. The report said this “certainly illustrates the growing interest in international degrees for US applicants”.

“Europe continues to attract most of the American students who decide to obtain a degree abroad. The top five this year comprise the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. China takes sixth place as the top non-European country that registered the most US students,” the report said.

Moving in the opposite direction, more than a million international students were enrolled in US higher education institutions in 2017, more than in any of the previous academic years.

This was also 85% more than were studying in American institutions a decade earlier, the report said.

As is the case in Australia, Britain and America, the greatest number of foreign university students in each country is from China.