Dayana Pingelova

2020 Student interest changes for Australia and New Zealand: opposite effects


Summary of our webinar: Around the world with data in 60 minutes

The data this week tells two strikingly different stories of countries close to one another. Despite such contrast, Australia and New Zealand have faced very similar challenges in maintaining international interest in their higher education markets. As 2021 moves steadily forward, we’ll see how policy affects the rate of recovery in the Australasian region.

This week’s webinar is led by our Studyportals Director of Analytics, This van Vugt. Our expert guests include Brett Berquist, International Director at The University of Auckland and Phil Honeywood, CEO at International Education Association of Australia.

Let’s dive straight into some global context for the data we’re about to explore. On average, the top global destinations on the Studyportals platform have shown a decrease of 2.9% in international interest in higher education courses. When we include data from the start of 2021, though, that figure jumps to a 4.0% rise on average.

Those same destinations have seen a 5.4% total loss in interest in on-campus courses, but a subsequent rise of 5.9% in online study interest from international sources. It’s important to remember that Studyportals users have a buying cycle of at least one to two years, so these figures may reflect future enrolment figures.

Diving into our key locations, we see a stark contrast between interest in on-campus courses. Where New Zealand saw a 10.1% rise on 2019 figures, Australia took an 11.7% loss. Interestingly, though, both countries saw a drop in demand for online courses to a different extent. New Zealand took a 10.3% loss in interest and Australia a huge 49.3%.

Losses here in the online sector likely reflect gains made in the online sector in other countries – a fascinating example of how the move to online is shifting global market dynamics.

Analysing these figures month-by-month, New Zealand was upon its 2019 at the start of 2020 but took a loss in March with the outbreak of the pandemic. They were then able to recoup those losses quickly throughout the rest of the year.

Australia saw a similar drop in March but failed to see the same kind of recovery throughout the rest of the year. Phil Honeywood characterises this loss as being mostly driven by domestic and migration policy restrictions:

“Canada, for example, has done a wonderful job of keeping their borders open for international students…because countries have kept their borders open, unlike New Zealand and Australia, we’ve had a situation where students have voted with their feet.”

  •  Phil Honeywood, CEO at International Education Association of Australia

Universities remain very much at the mercy of policy decisions and many are sceptical about the financial benefits of lockdown. Phil notes that Australia has “managed to contain the virus incredibly well.” However, whether that will translate into a health “dividend” for Australia, “remains to be seen. He notes that, “it’s one thing to prove to the world and be relatively COVID-free, it’s another thing entirely to then enjoy the benefits of being a safe, welcoming destination.”

He believes, though, that there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of the industry.

“There’s a genuine desire in Australia for a new focus on migration outcomes for skills in demand…there’s a lot of pressure on our federal government to come up with a population plan to ensure we do meet skills in demand.”

  •   Phil Honeywood, CEO at International Education Association of Australia

Brett notes that, similar to Australia, New Zealand moved quickly to close borders, slashing their number of international students almost in half. The University of Auckland, however, moved quickly to reinforce its retention and continuation strategies. The result was that the institution, “finished 2020 down only 8%, which is really quite remarkable. Right now, we’re up in 2021 and 45% of my international students are studying online.”

Auckland has achieved all this, even though, “New Zealand hasn’t traditionally been very big in online [teaching].” Brett believes this success is due to rapid innovations to university policy and provision:

“We offered a range of market-leading incentives…any courses students failed online, we let them retake the entire course for free. We offered a free summer school to help them get back on track. As things settled in and we moved into the second semester we offered learning centres in China…as students who were feeling fatigued learning from home, as Chinese campuses were reopening carefully we allowed students to relocate there.”

  •  Brett Berquist, International Director, The University of Auckland

Additional loyalty programmes and the addition of 1500 virtual micro-internships has helped ensure the continuing appeal of the Auckland offering. The fact that these innovations successfully drove retention is interesting in light of the changes in global market dynamics we’ve seen with the expansion of online learning. It’s possible that such ideas will be the key to success in our digital future.

Brett explains that “a lot of universities are doing similar things – we’ve been doing it on turbo drive and that’s what’s behind our success.”

For more insights from our experts, make sure to check out the recording and slides.

And don’t forget – there are more data-driven analyses from Studyportals to come.

Watch this space for upcoming webinars. We hope to see you there!

For more updates, follow us!


More Blog Posts