It appears that stars conspired against Australian Education Exports around 2009. What began with the slightly exaggerated accounts of the student security issues was further compounded by toughened student visa requirements and sealed up by the migration changes during that period. However, most commentators talked of the strong Australian Dollar as the real killer. The US currency had weakened due to the recession while Australian economy continued to do well through recession possibly because it has limited defence spending as it is considered a lucky nation and has abundance of natural resources and for the very first time the Australian currency became more expensive in Indian rupee terms to even the dollar. What used to be Rs 30 only a few years ago, had risen to Rs 40 or so in 2009 and then over the next three years, it had ballooned to Rs 58. This change had made Australian education as about 30-40% more expensive suddenly even without any particular change. Some of us felt that this put the Australian options out of reckoning for the Indian students as very few could now afford it. The education loans in India which funds about 70% of the outgoing numbers has a limit which has not changed for over ten years.
For a moment there, it seemed the high Australian dollar might join the cockroaches as the only survivor of nuclear winter.
Despite interest rate cuts, falling commodity prices and weak terms of trade, the cockroach currency continued to enjoy the high life. Until now.
The slump in the Australian dollar might still be young – it’s been below parity for just a week now – but companies across numerous sectors are already calculating what it could be worth to them.
They say that all days are not the same and clearly if the the stars had ganged up against Australia in 2009, it seems that the same stars have now decided that they have had enough.
The following are the changes that can give hope to the country’s exporters of International Education:
- Australian has introduced SVP: Streamline Visa Processing. This is an unique visa regime where the Universities have to share some of the responsibilities with the Entry Clearance functions. The Universities now have to assure themselves on the funding abilities and genuine-ness of the students. The visa office fast-tracks and eases the entry for those who have been screened by the Universities. Not yet offered to vocational institutes but that might happen too towards the end of the year. Australian Genuine Temporary Entrant criteria seems to be now copied by the UK too through their newly introduced credibility assessments.
- Australia has introduced Post Study Work: This has already been written as the biggest new USP for Australia. Once again it is only for degree students but then its timing coinciding with the withdrawn of PSW by UK seems to vindicate that the “stars are ganging up in Aussie favour”.
- Security Situation is much less a worry: While the media has also realised that they had hyped up the 2009 situation when some mugging and opportunistic crimes were exaggerated. Further, yes, there were a couple of fatal incidents but in all of them finally there has been action including one recently where the guilty has received 45 years sentence. It is not inconsiquential to note that when the media realised that the guilty turns out to be of Sri-Lankan origin and looks “indian”, they lost some of their hype there too. Despite all this, there was a security concern in 2009 and there has been some measures albeit due to the media and Indian pressures which has led to a significant improvement. Also there has been similar incidents in UK and US in recent years affecting Indian students and so once again, there is a new feeling that Indian students need to be careful in all large cities whether they are in Australia, UK, USA or even in India.
- Now, the Australian dollar has weakened and is likely to weaken further: A 10% fall is already experienced and there is a feeling that further strengthening of the US$ will lead to a further 5% fall in the Australian dollar value. This would make Australian options 10-15% cheaper and within reach while putting the US options that much more expensive.
- Also there is a mindset change in Australia to embrace more Asia and planning for the Asian Century: I personally believe that this is preparing the continent for a greater role in the coming decades. Now several Indian languages including our “Hindi” is an additional language option in the schools.
If the above do not work in Australian favour, what else will. The only factor that bothers me is that the Australian Government is not doing any aggressive or active marketing of itself as the destination for Indian students. Either they have not allocated funds for it or that they are waiting for the elections in Australia to be over.