Australia’s education services sector is now a $20 billion export industry as universities and vocational education & training (VET) institutions enjoy double-digit year-on-year growth. The attractiveness of Australia to international students, particularly those from neighbouring Asia-Pacific nations, is rightly a source of national pride. But how long can it last? In this article Horizon examines the challenges which lie ahead for education services and what marketers can do to protect their share of lucrative international student revenues.
Disruption to education services is good old fashioned competition
US colleges are waking up to the revenue potential on offer from international students. Soon this will translate into aggressive marketing campaigns that will challenge Australia’s education institutions to more effectively market and position their services, notwithstanding ‘brand Australia’.
Department of Education & Training research highlights the risks of a waking US giant. Although globally the revenue pie attributed to international students is growing, the new push by US institutions positioning their offers to market will be formidable. Its colleges dominate all global rankings and can offer career pathways directly to numerous multinational corporations.
Whilst ‘brand Australia’ will remain an attractive plus-point, the reputation of our institutions is the major drawcard for international students. This can be undercut by US Ivy League universities which can rightfully point to stronger academic achievements and overall output.
The successful agency models which Australian universities and VET institutions have engaged could also be under threat by a newly enlightened US competitor. Expect its universities to either threaten our existing agency relationships or create newer, larger models.
Death by a thousand cuts
Whilst US competition has the potential to inflict rapid pain to revenues in the Australian education services sector, the more serious slow, but systemic decline, could come from within our biggest student sourcing countries (i.e. China, India, Japan and South Korea) as they raise the quality and output of their own tertiary education and vocational training – including English tuition, to rival the current global elite.
China recently made its intentions clear. It wants to have world-leading universities and disciplines by 2030. This is not an unrealistic goal. In 1996 academic citations from US universities outranked those from China by 55-1. By 2014 this had shrunk to 2.5-1. From 1996-2014 overall academic output by USA universities grew by 60%. In China it grew by 1,600% (SOURCE: http://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php).
Global university rankings are beginning to reflect the rising output and quality of Asian universities as names like NUS (Singapore), Peking University (China), KAIST (South Korea) and Tokyo University (Japan) become mainstays inside most global top 50 ranking lists.
Stories which will shape successful outcomes for Australian businesses
Universities by nature create content – lots of content. With the right strategy this content can be used as effective marketing collateral to lure prospective international students – stories and news which positions the Australian education experience and drives close engagement with tomorrow’s international students.
To counter direct in-market marketing by US and local institutions, Australian universities will need to mobilise and amplify advocacy networks in countries where our market share is about to be challenged. Our universities and VET institutes have strong alumni networks, built up over many over recent years, particularly throughout Asia-Pacific. Mobilising those voices for strategic marketing purposes will help protect the value proposition of education in Australia, notwithstanding as the international student experience in Australia.
Boots on the ground
Strategic marketing through existing channels may not be enough. Counsel and resources from local marketing and communications professionals may be necessary to exploit latent opportunities which are not known here, and tap into the consciousness of publics in our target markets from an insider perspective.
Content partnerships which help to positively elevate brand Australia internationally could very effectively drive positive influence among target audiences in the Asia-Pacific.
If you’d like to learn more about how communications can help amplify your university’s brand wither here or abroad, contact Horizon Communication Group. We have deep experience in the education sector as well as direct experience working throughout the Asia-Pacific.
First published in http://www.horizoncg.com.au