13/05/2022 - 09:00

Belford banking on student buy-in

13/05/2022 - 09:00


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Derryn Belford is working on how to attract international students back to WA.

Belford banking on student buy-in
Derryn Belford held several key roles with Tourism WA over the past decade. Photo: David Henry

Derryn Belford might have a new job but she’s working through similar issues to those faced in her previous position.

Since February, Ms Belford has led StudyPerth, an organisation that acts as something of an international advertising agency for education in Perth and a go-between for agents and providers.

In her previous role with Tourism WA, which included a 12-month stint as acting managing director, she was tasked with selling a state held hostage to its government’s hard-line approach to COVID-19, which included opening, shutting, and reopening to the rest of the world.

Now, Ms Belford needs to convince the same people who’ve spent the last two years on the outside looking in that their children would benefit from coming here to live and study.

It’s a situation that has potentially made Western Australia perennially unwelcoming to visitors, a proposition Ms Belford was careful to address when put to her by Business News.

“I think people see it as a cautious place,” she said.

“All our students who were onshore were talking to their families and living a life while we were in our bubble.

“We do know now, though, that the first stage of what we have to do is reengage with our key distribution channels.

“We’ve got to make sure the agents out there know that we’re now open, know that we’re now welcoming, and know that their students can actually get here.”

Ms Belford is open about the need to restore the pipeline of students coming into WA.

While the state has retained a large international student cohort, numbering about 30,000, that’s down from 2019 when nearly 50,000 students were onshore and pumped cash into the services and property industries.

Public universities have been among the biggest losers, with their take of fees from international students onshore dropping from a peak of $507 million prior to the pandemic to $406 million in 2021.

That it hasn’t dropped further is testament to the fact that WA, relative to the eastern states, has underperformed in attracting international students over the past decade.

Broadly, however, Ms Belford, like many in the industry, sees bringing international students back to WA as both a social and financial imperative.

“It’s not just about the money that comes into the economy,” she said.

“It’s more than just the 7,500 people it supports, the $2 billion that was the value of [it as a share of] the economy prior to COVID-19.

“It’s actually [about] what the opportunities are for the future.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, after two years of tough talk on borders and disease management, the state government is taking the matter seriously.

David Templeman, who briefly held the tourism portfolio last year, in December was handed the job of promoting international education.

In March he helped launch StudyPerth’s student hub, which, located on the corner of Wellington Street and Queen Street in Perth’s CBD, will from 2025 sit opposite Edith Cowan University’s city campus.

That campus has been bolstered by the Perth City Deal, which that same month received a top of state and federal funding to cover for potential cost overruns.

Ms Belford and the StudyPerth team are going to need all the help they can get in the interim, with the year ahead to largely focus on rebuilding WA’s student cohort through reconnecting with agents and deploying business development managers overseas.

At least one opportunity she’s identified for growth will be promoting post-work options for students once they’ve finished their degrees, which should aid WA in expanding its workforce against 4.1 per cent unemployment.

As for the need to repair WA’s standing, Ms Belford sounded a note of confidence in the state’s ability to pick up where growth was prior to 2019.

“What we’re seeing is quite a big boom at the end of this year, where we’ve been priming the pump for two years and people are excited,” she said.

“What we’ve got to do now is keep that foot on the pump.”


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