International students key resource to helping Victoria build its Asia capability

HAVING studied and worked in cities including Singapore, London and Melbourne,  Jason Widjaja offers  a seasoned international student’s perspective on the issues and challenges the Victorian Government will need to address to become a national and world leader in student experience.


Having studied at the tertiary level in three different cities (Singapore, London and Melbourne), I would like to offer a seasoned international student’s take on the position of Victoria’s reputation as an international student destination.

In my opinion, Victoria’s current success in international education is inexorably tied to Melbourne’s reputation as the world’s most liveable city, and Victoria’s best hand should come from playing the cards that it has been dealt. Victoria’s basis of competition should thus be to match other cities on education and employment outcomes while soundly trouncing the competition on student experience. And it is through this lens that I consider Victoria’s international education strategy.

Student experience

I laud that the Victorian government is taking concrete steps to look after the welfare of international students, notably by establishing and operating the Study Melbourne Student Centre (SMSC) and piloting schemes such as the iUSE pass that positively impact the everyday experience of international students. However, there is room to empathise with the plight of less fortunate international students, take a more granular view of the international student population and reflect on the mindsets that are adopted towards international students.

Also, international students are not a homogenous group. We face unique challenges depending on where we come from and our personal circumstances. In engaging the body of international students, ensuring that they have a voice in committees and doing the hard yards in engaging the various national, ethnic and cultural communities, would yield richer insights and more innovative and targeted local solutions rather than broader statewide initiatives.

Education outcomes

Victoria is already is an enviable position within Australia in terms of education provision, with six universities appearing in rankings of the world’s best. To safeguard the reputation and quality of Victorian education, regulations should be in place to audit the quality of education providers as well as the messaging and positioning of upstream student recruitment channels. This would serve to weed out dubious recruitment practices and protect incoming students at their most vulnerable stage.

The opportunity for technology in delivering education is to support and complement, not to supersede and displace.

Here, technology also features into the mix. In my opinion, the opportunity for technology in delivering education is to support and complement, not to supersede and displace. Lecture recordings, online collaboration platforms and virtual classrooms are good levers to improve the education consumption options available for international students, especially those who may have to work part time while undertaking their studies. But migrating entire courses to an online medium would take away two key attractions – the diverse class interactions and the Melbourne experience – and as such should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

Employment outcomes

Post-graduation, the current education to employment pathway is not without its potholes. One of the largest hindrances to Victoria’s attractiveness has been addressed by the introduction of a two to four year student visa that will allow international students a fair opportunity at transiting into the Australian workforce.

However, transiting into the workforce in the face of language and cultural barriers remains a daunting task. While I appreciate that the headwinds faced by Australia affects the entire graduating student body, international students have it doubly hard. The work here is two-fold, and should extend to both students and employers. Even as students gain the requisite skills and language skills to become employable, much more work also needs to be done to improve employer awareness of the value that international student interns and graduates can create.

To those businesses and many others like them, I suggest that the international students in our midst are a key resource to nurture in helping to integrate Australia with the economies, societies and cultures of the region.

Beyond local outcomes however, Australia’s future is intertwined with that of the international community in general, and Asia in particular. In its 2014 report, ‘Engaging Asia: Challenges for Australian Businesses’, Asialink Business published results from a survey of more than 400 Australian businesses engaged in Asia which identified gaps in areas which included cultural training and advice on understanding Asian business cultures. To those businesses and many others like them, I suggest that the international students in our midst are a key resource to nurture in helping to integrate Australia with the economies, societies and cultures of the region.

Victoria, the stepping stone to a bright future in the region may already be standing on your doorstep.

Jason Widjaja came to Melbourne as an international student in 2009 to do an MBA at Melbourne Business School. Following his graduation, he overcame visa issues to land a role in a management consulting firm before embarking on a second masters in Business Analytics.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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