“They are missing, we miss them”: Plan to bolster city’s student reputation

David Schout

More than a third of the CBD’s student population have left the city since the onset of COVID-19, and a plan has emerged to arrest the slide.

The City of Melbourne has released a blueprint to make Melbourne the world’s number one city for “student experience” to combat those turning away.

The council has acknowledged it needed to “re-build Melbourne’s reputation” and would employ a range of measures to attract and retain international students.

These included free tickets to local attractions and events, wellbeing services and employment pathways.

The city is currently joint-second — alongside London and behind Berlin — in the “student view” indicator according to university ranking group QS.

The rankings form a key part of marketing to prospective students around the world.

Melbourne was the third-best student city overall in 2019 according to QS but has now dropped to sixth, and councillor Phillip Le Liu said those in the sector were feeling the pinch.

“The feedback so far from the industry [is that] they’re being hit hard,” he said.

 

It [declining ranking] is a big hit for the agents who are trying to entice students back to Melbourne.

 

In has emerged that students have turned away from Australian universities in favour of those in the United Kingdom and Canada.

A key reason for this related to Australia’s strict border policy throughout the pandemic.

International education is Victoria’s largest service-based export and in Melbourne in particular, the decline loomed as a long-term economic and cultural hit.

“We feel it everywhere,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“Whether they are renters of property, workers in businesses, customers at retail hospitality and cultural venues or volunteers in our local community groups. They are missing and we miss them.”

Among the blueprint was plans to launch an inaugural Melbourne International Student Week at Federation Square this year. The council acknowledged that several factors related to a prospective student’s decision to come to Australia, including border and visa issues, were outside its control.

However, it said a student’s experience within Melbourne was something it had the capacity to influence.

On this measure it had a “clear” plan to be ranked number one in the world, as Cr Capp conceded the city could improve.

“Other counties have been making the most of this opportunity to attract international students to their cities, to welcome them. We’ve seen incredible upticks in enrolments in places like London and Toronto. We need to get out there again,” she said.

“This policy really sets the ambition not just for a reputation that we can use in marketing, but to fundamentally enhance the experience that international students have because let’s face it, word-of-mouth from international students to other friends and family recommending they come to Melbourne because it is the number one student city is the best thing that we can be doing, and it’s about what we deliver.”

The pandemic has had a major impact on Melbourne’s remaining international students.

The City of Melbourne’s support has included free vouchers to be spent at the Queen Victoria Market, and the establishment of a vaccination hub at Town Hall to assist vulnerable students •

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