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“Beer and beaches” hurts the Australian university brand?

6 December, 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education posted this little article on the ‘brand image’ of Australian education. When my husband read it, he said, “It’s simply not accurate. I see far more people drinking wine on the beaches here than beer.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated November 30, 2007

‘Beer and Beaches’ Image Said to Hurt Australia’s Higher-Education ‘Brand’

Australia has lost its edge as a leader in higher education as universities in the United States, Canada, and Scandinavia discourage their students from indulging in a “sun, surf, and sex” experience down under, an official representing the nation’s research-intensive universities has warned.

Michael Gallagher, executive director of an eight-university Australian research group, said in a speech that the tourist images “surrounding much of Australia’s international-education marketing send messages other than valuing intellectual achievement” and that a “long tail of mediocrity” threatened the international reputation of Australian higher education. To counter the threat, he said, the country’s universities should concentrate their research money to create a tier of “big league” players in global research.

Mr. Gallagher, who leads the Group of Eight, told the audience at a colloquium at the University of Sydney that an Australian education was associated more with a “beer-and-beaches holiday” than a valuable learning experience.

Mr. Gallagher, who was responsible for the federal government’s administration of higher education from 1990-94 and 2000-2, said that while Australian education had been marketed as a “fair to good, average system,” tourism and immigration had “intruded into the branding message.”

His speech amplified fears among the nation’s elite universities that Australia has pursued a bulk rather than a quality strategy, to the point that an Australian degree is perceived as the educational equivalent of one of the country’s cheap chardonnays.

“‘Brand Australia’ has become problematic in several markets,” Mr. Gallagher said. “In some markets, such as in India, it is very much attached to high-volume, low-price, migration-driven offerings. That may make for good business in the short-to-medium term, but is of concern for Australia’s ability to form networks of influence through alumni in business, government, and the academic community over the longer term.” …

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 December, 2007 9:04 am

    Lucky Macquarie is nowhere near a beach. I suppose a “beer and suburbs” holiday doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

  2. 6 December, 2007 2:36 pm

    “Beer and ‘burbs” — go, Club Maq!

  3. 11 December, 2007 3:01 pm

    I recently spent my junior year studying at the University Sydney, and coming through an abroad program with many other Americans, it was clear to me that many of my fellow American students were in Australia just for the beer, beaches, and babes. Surely this is, in part, the result of Australian tourist images that create an image of Australia as one giant, friendly party. However, I think the way the university structures the curriculum and the housing options for abroad students also plays an important role. At least at the University of Sydney, abroad students only have a limited number of classes to choose from. This causes a situation where abroad students take all their classes together. Also, abroad students tend to be set up in living situations with each other as well. With a large number of abroad students—who came to Australia imagining a certain party experience—living and working together, they manage to create this experience with each other. They imagined Australia in a certain way, and they were able to recreate it—albeit with few actual Australians. If the abroad students are integrated more into the local university experience by expanding course and housing options, then perhaps the students would be pulled more towards a more normal Australian university experience, which—like all first-rate universities—involves as much time with books as it does with beer.

  4. 12 December, 2007 9:19 am

    That’s an interesting analysis, CB. I’m not entirely positive but I think that at Macquarie the abroad students have considerable choice in the classes they can take, which sounds like it’s different from your Sydney Uni experience; but they do all live together, as you described (which is just in the nature of the Australian university experience: most Australian students live with their families, so there isn’t a big dorm system full of Australians that you can integrate the foreign students into).

    I think that at least part of the blame, too, must rest on the structure of study-abroad programs in the universities back in the U.S. I have learned from my American semester-abroad students at Macquarie that the grades they receive for their semester here don’t count toward their final GPA back home. As a result, they don’t really need to do anything but barely pass their courses to get credit for them. Not much incentive to work hard academically. But that’s hardly a problem specific to Australia. I think that most study abroad students going anywhere, not just Oz, choose a new and interesting place to explore and not many go to visit another university for the scholarly opportunities.

  5. Third Tone Devil permalink
    2 January, 2008 2:19 am

    For Macquarie at least, Gallagher’s assessment that its market is essentially “high-volume, low-price, migration-driven” appears to me entirely correct. In fact, I have found the university’s international recruitment managers so used to this approach that they have no faith the university *could* attract high-achieving students from China, which is its largest market, rather than the usual crowd of kids who did not score well enough in the college entrance exam back home, or did not even try to sit for it.

    In these circumstances, attracting such high-achieving students is not easy for several reasons: the “brand”; the absence or scarcity of merit scholarships for foreign undergraduates and mastersstudents; and the logic of the system that is based on the assumption that most students come here either to have fun or to get permanent residence. Thus, students who want to take more than three courses a semester need special permission. Despite this policy that plainly pushes them to the beach, in my classes, exchange students have tended to be above-average performers. Perhaps, as Jovan writes, because the beach is too far.


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