Increased competition among local universities, a greater appetite for mobility and the introduction of various new entry pathways have led to a less predictable trend in the transition of students from high school to university. This is evident in the downward trend in the proportion of students sitting exams in ATAR subjects. In response, UWA is expanding its suite of shorter and more accessible courses that encourage a broader range of students to participate. This further satisfies the growing demand for upskilling and training.
The international student market continues to grow for Australia as the rising economic development of large populations continues (particularly Chinese and Indian), with 2019 national enrolments growing 11 per cent on 2018. The short term impact of Covid-19 is becoming clearer but ongoing vigilance will be needed to understand and respond to any longer term effects.
WA and UWA continue to hold a relatively small share of this market. Embracing the value that international diversity provides to a student’s soft skills, UWA continues to seek some growth in international students, in turn helping offset funding constraints for domestic students. It is a persistent challenge for Perth and consequently UWA to gain recognition as an international study destination; but as a collection of WA universities, work continues with the State Government and Study Perth to enhance this.
Much of the rapid international student growth seen in recent years has been driven by China, leaving some of our sector counterparts exposed to a significant proportion of revenue tied to a single market.
UWA is maintaining a more balanced international student profile and continues to recruit for diversity and growth, recognising the strength of its brand in Southeast Asia and the broader Indian Ocean Rim. Future international student load expectations will be conducted in the light of any ongoing Covid-19 effects.
Government and policy
The Federal Government policy environment offers relative stability. Following the re-election of the Morrison Government in May 2019, funding for undergraduate places remains constrained, capped at 2017 levels in 2018 and 2019 with growth from 2020 limited to the rate of population growth. Compounding this, accessing this population-driven funding is dependent on the achievement of Government-set performance thresholds supporting the focus on equity, employability, student experience and retention. These performance targets align with UWA’s Strategic Plan 2020-25, so UWA is well-placed to respond successfully and optimise funding. UWA’s engagement with sector colleagues and the Department of Education will ensure the scheme develops to best satisfy policy intention, student expectations and quality education.
The reallocation of Commonwealth supported places remains uncertain beyond 2020. Further consultation and decision’s expected. This is particularly relevant for UWA’s course model, where many postgraduate students benefit from Commonwealth support. UWA remains active in the consultation process to maintain ongoing Federal investment in WA.
Following 2017’s unfavourable changes to the skilled migration settings for WA, in November 2019 Perth was designated as a regional city for migration purposes. The change will enable international students to access migration and employment incentives to undertake their study in Perth. This change had been tested by phased changes to the migration lists, which were successful in building WA into the consideration of prospective students. The new migration settings will continue to be embedded in the international education market, and are expected to support international expansion at UWA.
With very competitive national research funding pools remaining limited, UWA continues to seek alternative ways of funding research. In 2019, discussion advanced in relation to investment centring on research infrastructure, particularly following the passage of legislation in October 2019 repurposing around $4 billion in Education Investment Fund monies away from education into disaster relief. UWA’s development of new and diversified income from industry and partnerships continues to offset the limitations in traditional funding sources.
In December, the Commonwealth Government announced a simplification of higher education provider category standards. While there are no direct impacts on UWA, changes to the regulatory environment for private and new entrants are expected to have an impact on WA’s higher education market in time. The Australian Qualifications Framework was reviewed in 2019, with recommendations to modernise the framework to enhance the links between higher education and Vocational Education and Training sectors, recognise shorter-form and microcredentials, and broaden recognition of attained credit. These changes will support UWA’s expansion of course offerings by providing a quality threshold unique to higher education providers.
The Commonwealth’s review into freedom of speech on Australian university campuses, led by UWA’s Chancellor the Hon. Robert French AC, reported no evidence of a freedom of speech crisis on Australian campuses, and presented a model code for consideration by Australian universities. UWA also undertook a broad consultation process, leading to a UWA position on freedom of expression and the capabilities to support this: the UWA Statement on Freedom of Expression.
Information security and undue influence
Recent data breaches from a number of universities have raised the profile of privacy and data security among universities and the Government. Cybersecurity and the identification and deterrence of unwanted and undue influence have been a priority throughout 2019, particularly among research intensiveand highly internationalised universities. The Federal University Foreign Interference Taskforce launched good practice guidelines to mitigate the risks of inappropriate interference in Australian universities. UWA is implementing these guidelines within an industry standard framework, augmenting existing scrutiny of activity,compliance with defence trade controls, research ethics and conduct codes, international sanctions and staff risk awareness and reporting practices.