On Friday, the Age newspaper featured a story on how foreign fee paying students have become a lucrative income source for cash-strapped Victorian schools. It’s coincidental because I’ve just caught up reading the February report by the International Education Advisory Council on the challenges and opportunities of Australia’s international education sector.

While the focus is predominately on expanding tertiary and VET sectors, there are some interesting statistics on the demand for quality education both regionally and internationally. For instance:

  • Education is the fourth largest export industry – $15.7 billion in 2011
  • In NSW – international education and training is the second top export earner after coal
  • As a result, Australia has internationalised the design and delivery of its education systems
  • China, Rep of Korea and Vietnam had the highest student enrolments in schools in 2012
  • Australia is likely to host more than half a million students in 2020 studying across all education sectors.  This will be worth $19.1 billion to the local economy.
  • Australia needs to focus on providing high quality education

The report identifies seven key issues to be addressed if Australia is to remain globally competitive.  Three of these are relevant to the work of school systems:

  1. Provide the highest quality education
  2. Develop strong and diverse partnerships that encourage exchange, capacity building and collaboration
  3. Inform educational policy through accurate and timely data analysis and research

In the book ‘That Use to be Us’, Thomas Friedman explains why an average education won’t suffice in a hyper-connected world.  He uses his wife’s old college in Iowa as an example of how competitive education has become.  When Thomas’ wife attended Grinnell there were 1600 students. He says if you want your kids to go to Grinnell now, they’ll be competing against 250 applicants from China.  Even Bill Gates admitted he’d rather be a genius born in China than an average guy born in the US because these days multinational companies look globally for the best talent.

This is the reality of living in today’s world and it’s something that every educator needs to be mindful of. Education is global, it’s big business and technology has made the farm, not just the paddock, the new environment. Those things that used to be barriers are now opportunities for new ways of working in a knowledge age.

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