The Go8 understands the intent behind the decision to collect and monitor data on the performance of international education agents. We agree that maintaining the integrity of the Australian international education sector is an important factor in the ongoing success and reputation of our sector.
We also understand that the Minister has committed to collecting and publishing some agent performance data as part of this process.
However, we also note that it is important that the resulting process strikes an optimal balance between providing clarity and quality assurance to agents, students and providers, and inadvertently handing our competitor nations confidential data on our operations that could provide them with a commercial advantage.
As we are sure the Minister is aware, the international education market is highly competitive. Australian providers compete for students against not only traditional competitors such as the USA, UK and Canada, but also newer providers seeking to capitalise on this booming industry.
China, for example, is pursuing a target of half a million foreign students by 2020, a target it is anticipated to achieve. Similarly, Japan is on track to achieve its goal of 300,000 students, also by 2020. And we can anticipate renewed efforts from the UK to recruit across the Asia-Pacific region, particularly China, to balance the drop in EU students that are expected to follow Brexit on the 29 March 2019. That Australia has continued to perform so strongly in such a market attests to the quality of our sector, and underlines the importance of measures designed to ensure this is maintained.
In this context, the Go8 supports the collation of data on agent performance for the purpose of ensuring quality. We also support transparency as one mechanism to protect the integrity of our third largest export sector. However, it is critical to ensure that the data that is publicly accessible supports our industry, rather than causes it inadvertent harm.
To this end, answers to the questions raised in the policy paper are provided below.
Which variables would be most useful for analysing agent performance in relation to student outcomes? For example, education sector, field of study, country/state/province of student origin, time of agent in market?
This will depend upon the intended audience. As we understand it, there are three intended audiences for the data: students, agents and the sector.
It should also be understood that countries that compete with Australia for international students will also be able to access any information that is released into the public domain. This makes it imperative that no information that would normally be considered commercial in confidence be released.
It is also important that publicly available data are simple, easy to interpret and accessible to audiences who are not familiar with the Australian education system.
For these reasons, high level, aggregate data would be sufficient to meet quality assurance requirements, while not jeopardizing industry viability.
We refer you to our individual members’ submissions for details on the variables.
Agent performance data could be presented in a range of formats, including static tables and graphs, or pivot tables that allow the user to manipulate the data.
- Which publication formats for agent performance data would be most useful?
The Go8 does not support the release of data in any format that would permit user manipulation. Tools such as pivot tables require a degree of understanding of the underlying data before meaningful results can be obtained. This creates a risk of false or misleading impressions.
Instead we recommend the use of simple, static tables or graphs.