While the overall foreign student population in Australia has declined this year, the number of Pakistanis studying in Australia is continuing double-digit growth, according to recent Australian government data on international education. Pakistan has now become the top growth market for Australia's struggling international education industry, even though revenue from its neighbor India fell almost $1 billion in a single year, according to The Australian newspaper. New Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that Australia's fourth-biggest export industry is turning to new markets to counter a $2.2bn loss of revenue last year.
Australia's earnings from the top 12 foreign markets all fell last year, topped by India, which slumped by 37 per cent, but Pakistan bucked the trend, with revenue rising 15 per cent to $253 million.
Australian international education revenue from Pakistan has been rising, more than tripling over the past five years. Earnings from the boom-bust Indian market are down 50% in two years, collapsing from a 2009 peak of $3.1bn.
Although the growth in the total number Pakistanis studying abroad has slowed since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 in the United States, the world's sixth most populous nation continues to be among the leading sources of foreign students in America, Europe, Australia and new emerging higher education destinations in Asia.
As the number of Pakistani students in the United States has declined from a peak of 8,644 students (ranked 13th) in 2001-02 to 5,222 in 2009-10 (ranked 23rd), English-speaking OECD nations of the United Kingdom and Australia have become the biggest beneficiaries getting increasing market share of the Pakistan education market. Both nations have benefited in spite of the fact that the UK and Australian visa rejection rates for Pakistanis are higher than for students from other nations.
With rising urban middle class, there is substantial and growing demand in Pakistan from students, parents and employers for private quality higher education, including vocational training, along with a willingness and capacity to pay relatively high tuition and fees, according to the findings of Austrade, an Australian govt agency promoting trade. Private institutions are seeking affiliations with universities abroad to ensure they offer information and training that is of international standards.
Trans-national education (TNE) is a growing market in Pakistan and recent data shows evidence of over 40 such programs running successfully in affiliation with British universities at undergraduate and graduate level, according to The British Council. Overall, the UK takes about 65 per cent of the TNE market in Pakistan.
A common concern about Pakistani students is that they might not return to serve their country. I think this is a genuine concern but it is often overblown. Pakistanis with advanced training are helping their country of origin in many ways. Those who are living and working overseas send significant amounts of money home to help Pakistan's economy. Others contribute their know-how by returning home as doctors, engineers, professors and other professionals and technocrats on a permanent basis or by frequent working visits.
Examples of foreign-educated Pakistanis who are directly contributing to the nation include a Fulbright computer science scholar who has returned home to help fight terror, a plastic surgeon helping victims of acid attacks, a heart surgeon setting up a hospital in a remote Pakistani village, successful business executives, scientists, university professors and deans, current central bank governor, current finance minister and thousands of others.
It is extremely important for Pakistan's public policy makers and the nation's private sector to fully appreciate the expected demographic dividend as a great opportunity to turn the nation's fortunes for the better. The best way for them to demonstrate it is to push a pro-youth agenda of education, skills development, health and fitness to take full advantage of this tremendous opportunity. Failure to do so would be a missed opportunity that could be extremely costly for Pakistan and the rest of the world.