Last week, Helen Zimmerman, President of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) and latest member to (re)join the AIEC Committee was in town. We caught up for a few minutes to discuss Helen’s background in international education, the IEAA and what she’s most looking forward to at this year’s AIEC. Here’s how it went…
Could you tell us a bit about what you do?
My current role is heading up Government and Stakeholder Relations for Navitas, which I’ve been doing for just about one year now. However, before that, I headed up their division for English language delivery for international and domestic students, migrants and refugees for many years, and loved it.
How long have you been involved in international education?
I guess I’ve been involved in international education since the early nineties. I joined ACL in 1994, and in those days the company was primarily focused on international students. Navitas acquired the ACL Group, and so that’s how I came to be part of Navitas in 2005. I’m a member of the senior team, and so I’m involved in the strategy and operations as well as external relations.
I’ve also been a director of English Australia and NEAS over the years .
Were you attending AIEC back in those days?
There were two main conferences I use to attend when I first became involved in international education: the IDP Conference (now AIEC) and the ELICOS Association Conference (now the English Australia Conference). Those were the only two organisations giving real market intelligence back then, before we started getting statistics from the government, so the highlight of these conferences was the research and data presented on international education.
Attending the IDP Conference was our way of getting perspective on what was happening in international education in Australia, and of course, globally. Today, it has moved beyond having a purely a marketing focus (research and data presentations), and become a forum were we talk about “all” the issues in international education.
Could you tell us about IEAA and your role in the Association?
IEAA was formed in 2004. The idea was to create an individual member organisation for people working in and passionate about international education, to provide professional development for the sector and create a forum for the sharing and cross-fertilisation of ideas. Tony Adams invited me to be on the Board when they first started in 2004, and I’ve been involved ever since.
We were careful not to make it just about higher education. The IEAA has worked very hard and made it a point to ensure the association is cross-sectoral, public and private, with members based in Australia and overseas. Increasingly, with globalisation, we do a lot more now in engaging with other peak body associations, so the debates, the issues and the conversations are happening on two levels. The IEAA supports the whole Australian international education sector, and in the past few years we’ve increased our advocacy role and focused more on promoting the benefits of Australian international education to the community and governments.
IEAA is also about collaboration. There are many other peak bodies in Australia, but we are not here to do what they do: we are here to “link up” and “be a voice across all sectors”. We believe it’s important to work both nationally with these peak bodies, as well as with our international counterparts in other countries.
Over the last two years the focus has really moved towards engaging internationally, driven mostly by the emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa among others, coming to the table and joining in the conversation.
The important thing to remember is that IEAA focuses largely on the professionalisation of the industry, and this is why the AIEC is so important to everyone who works in the international education sector.
Can anyone sign up to become a member of IEAA at the conference?
Certainly. We’ll have a booth in the exhibition hall and we welcome everyone to come and talk to us. The secretariat staff will be there to tell delegates about IEAA, about what we do and how and why becoming a member is so important. Anyone who is working in international education who wants to know what is happening in Australia and is interested in connecting with international education professionals is welcome to join. And it’s not only for Australians in Australia. For example, we have non-Australian members who just want to keep up with what’s happening in Australia, or Australian members living overseas.
You don’t have to be physically living in Australia to enjoy all the benefits of membership. For example, we are offering more and more webinars now, so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can benefit from our professional development courses.
What are the benefits of becoming a member of the IEAA?
There are several benefits to becoming a member. For example, through direct email communications, we offer career opportunities alerts, important industry updates, data and research information and members also get a subscription to our Vista magazine and discounts on our seminar courses.
Also, members receive a $300 discount on the AIEC registration, and $50 discount on the pre-conference workshop registration. This is a great offer, considering the individual membership costs only $250.
What are you looking forward at this year’s conference?
Well, I usually always enjoy the keynote speakers, as well as the breadth and depth of the overall program. There’s always too much to choose from!
I think this year in particular, I’m really interested to see how speakers talk about innovation and creativity, and how to engage globally. As cliché as it sounds, the world is not the way it used to be, and today international education is undergoing a paradigm shift. I think that education is the most powerful force for change in societies, but at the same time, education is being disrupted by so many things, like technology, connectivity, different perspectives, challenges to business models and the importance of the student voice.
It’s an exciting time for international education, and the AIEC is the place where all these issues will be discussed.
Hope you enjoyed the read, as much as I enjoyed the interview. Looking forward to introducing you to the rest of the Committee!