ALREADY dealing with reduction in applications by international students in the wake of heavily publicised racial attacks on Indian students, the closures of private colleges and burgeoning class sizes, the falling performance of Australian universities in the international ranking systems is a wake-up call for Australia.Australia’s ‘selling’ of their tertiary education has been encouraged by government policies for decades, largely due to its economic importance as a growing export sector. With declining state support provided to universities over the last decade, universities have been pushed to substitute the lack of funding through fees from international students.The result over the last decade, until particularly recently, has been ballooning international student enrolments at Australian universities, and significant growth in the sector as an export for Australia.This internalisation of Australian tertiary education sector has come largely as a result of aggressive marketing to international students, particularly throughout the Asia region. The competition to attract lucrative international students has likewise become fierce – resulting in the battle of the glossy brochures – with Australian universities investing significant amounts of their profits into advertising.Research by the team at UniAustralia found that on average every Australian university spends a staggering $5.7 million on advertising, marketing and promotional activities, which amounts to an amazing 15.11% of their profits on marketing alone. When you keep in mind that these are institutions of higher education and not competing fast food outlets, these numbers become really staggering! Even more troubling, however, is the fact that most of these universities are relatively small, young and make much smaller profits.Interestingly, some of Australia’s more respectable universities, including Australian National University (est. 1947), the University of Adelaide (est. 1874) and the University of Sydney (est. 1850) , are comparatively unknown in the Indian market. They are the bottom three spenders in marketing. Instead of banking on advertisements, they have been fostering reputation over years of proven quality education. But this has remained relatively unknown to many students in a competitive industry. I believe, that for current and prospective students, excessive spending by universities on marketing directly translates into fewer facilities, less teaching staff and fewer courses to choose from. What we know about a university is what it tells us about itself. Professional, well designed brochures printed on relatively expensive glossy paper will likely be your formal first contact with a university. In such a scenario, the research for the right university is an extremely important step before choosing one. As university education continues to hold its eminence, it is important to be an educated consumer and distrust what universities are selling us. Australia can serve as a good example of the perils of commercialisation of the tertiary education sector. It also prompts students who are opting for higher education abroad to do extensive research to get a true idea of what universities are like – and this involves going beyond the information presented in glossy brochures.
The author is CEO of a website that provides reviews, ratings and rankings on all Australian Universities.
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