To people working at an international office of a higher education institution or at an education agency the terms APAIE, EAIE and NAFSA* are not “all Greek”. Everyone knows what they mean. These are the world's biggest international education fairs. Most of them are a combination of a fair and a symposium. Anyone who has something to say about academic mobility, is responsible for the international agendas of a higher education institution or is simply involved in profit- or non-profit-oriented student recruiting should attend.
Within the framework of the OeAD’s mandate to present Austrian higher education institutions internationally I had the honour of attending some of these fairs. The above-mentioned events are multiplier fairs. Moreover, we also attended some public fairs in the past, such as EHEF (European Higher Education Fairs, in Asian and African countries) or Europosgrados (in Latin America).
These types of fairs are primarily marketing events, their aim is to present a product or a service. Here the educational offerings of individual higher education institutions or entire countries are the focus of the presentations. On one hand it is about noble goals, about international exchange of students and researchers, about international cooperation in the field of education, about attracting the “brightest minds” with one's own offers. But it is also about business and competition, supply and demand, and in many places you can only study if you can afford it.
Fairs are always also shows – everyone shows what they have, can do and want. The size of a presentation area and the level of high-tech equipment testify to the educational goals of an institution or an entire country: Who is desperate to recruit students, who has a special presence in which region, who is interested in selling other services in addition to academic mobility, etc.
And where does Austria stand?
We are a small country, and we have a small booth. We represent all Austrian higher education institutions, and we advise on all study programmes – this is unique!
The focus of our presentation is not on recruiting international students; what we want to do is emphasise the quality of what our educational institutions have to offer and we endeavour to find interesting exchange and cooperation partners for our institutions. We promote the broad range of internationally recognised study programmes at universities, universities of applied sciences and university colleges of teacher education, which in no way need to fear comparison with the world's best.
The attractiveness of a location for higher education depends on many different factors, and at such a fair one encounters the whole repertoire of possible obstacles.
- What scholarships or support do you offer?
- Is it true that it is difficult to get a visa and/or residence permit for Austria?
- Am I allowed to work in Austria while studying?
- Is it true that you do not charge tuition fees in Austria? – What about the quality of the study programmes?
- Where are your universities positioned in the rankings? Which higher education institutions can you recommend?
- Oh no – German language skills are required? Don't you offer programmes in English?
- Can I bring my family? And my dog? – What vaccinations are required for my dog?
- Is there anyone from Sydney? …… oh pardon, it’s Austria and not Australia.
The questions are manyfold and sometimes – as the title of this article suggests – there is a lack of basic geographical knowledge. We reacted to this with the slogan “Highlight your future. Study in Austria” and included Austria’s geographical location of in the centre of Europe in the logo. Yes, it is sometimes exhausting. But when, at a higher education fair in Medan (Sumatra), a lady approaches me in perfect German to ask whether she has a chance to be selected for the Franz Werfel Scholarship with her research topic “Thomas Bernhard” I know that I am doing the right thing and that the international presentation of Austria as a location for higher education is more important than ever.
I admit it is not always easy to hold one’s own next to the so-called “big players” but we excel with a finely tuned external image and with a wide range of services to ensure Austria’s positioning in science and education. We answer 5,000 enquiries a year on studies, scholarships and legal topics. With our websites studyinaustria.at, grants.at, studienwahl.at we reach 1 million people interested in a study or research period in Austria.
We cooperate with international partners such as ACA (Academic Cooperation Association), EAIE and the EU initiative “Study in Europe: Enhancing the attractiveness of European higher education”.
Our motto: Match up with the Best! Highlight your future. Study in Austria.
Author: Eva Müllner
* APAIE – Asia-Pacific Association for International Education
EAIE – European Association for International Education
NAFSA – Association of International Educators, formerly National Association for Foreign Student Affairs