One of Sydney’s top universities wants to lower its entry standards for year 12 students and delay lifting English language requirements for overseas students to battle a multi-million dollar revenue shortfall.
“A below-the-radar approach is recommended to protect reputation,” said a slide referring to lower tertiary entrance ranks, which was presented to staff and obtained by the Herald.
The University of New South Wales lost $14.2 million after more than 800 domestic students dropped out before or early in term one and the number of first year international students fell by 222, documents show.
University executives responded by proposing to cut entry requirements for local students by reviewing subject prerequisites and reducing ATARs for some courses, staff were told during a strategy briefing late last month.
UNSW has already done this in engineering; students with ATARs as low as 83 – the published rank is 93 – are considered for that course if they provide a personal statement, their year 12 report and a video showing why they are suitable.
The university has already paused “further upward changes to academic and English requirements [for oveseas students] until market conditions improve,” the meeting was told. UNSW’s English standards are now the same as its Group of Eight competitors.
Extra strategies to reverse the international student drop included a plan to lure students who have deferred their studies at other institutions “through targeted agent communications,” the meeting was told.
It did not say whether those institutions would be local or international, but mentioned the “traditional July intake”, a date on the Australian higher education calendar. In the northern hemisphere, intakes are in August or September.
Agents recruit students in overseas markets and claim a slice of tuition fees as commission.
To boost international numbers, UNSW is also considering waiving more application fees, launching more international scholarships and trialling a China call centre, or “offshore contact hub”, next year.
More than 270 locals dropped out before classes began in term one, and another 575 dropped out within the first few weeks, the presentation slides show. The university will undertake market research to find out why.
International undergraduate commencements also dropped by 12 per cent, or 222 students, while overseas students beginning postgraduate degrees fell by three per cent, or 80 students.
The fall was blamed on fewer students coming from its associated business, NSW Global, which provides diploma and English programs; market adjustment to new English entry requirements; and some students failing to get visas on time.
The shortfall comes in a difficult year for one of Australia’s leading universities, amid complaints from staff and students that its move from two academic terms to three has created an unviable workload.
The move to a trimester system resulted in UNSW’s academic year beginning earlier than other universities’, meaning UNSW had less time to “convert” – convince interested applicants to choose its courses – than its rivals.
But Andrew Norton, who works on higher education policy at the Grattan Institute, said international students tended to prefer trimesters. “It enables them to finish their degree in less calendar time,” he said.
The UNSW presentation revealed that total domestic revenue for term one was $198 million, and total international revenue was $266 million. Improved performance from the Study Abroad – or exchange business – of $7.5 million helped offset the lost $14 million.
Across NSW universities, international student commencements rose by 3226 students in the year to March, government data shows. International students are an important source of income for Australia’s higher education sector, especially after the federal government froze its funding at 2017 levels.
A spokeswoman for UNSW said it now had more international students on campus than ever before, “and we are proud to have one of the world’s largest global student communities”.
“In 2019, there has been a slight decline in international student commencements at UNSW. Much of this is linked to a drop in students coming from UNSW Global, Australia’s leading provider of high-quality pathways education.
“A change in direction and leadership of UNSW Global has recently been announced – and is addressing the decline in pathway students. This decline is affecting the higher education sector more broadly.”
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald