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Olympic gold for international education?

20 August 2012

As the Olympic closing ceremony marks the end of an undeniably successful sporting extravaganza in London, is the much talked about ‘legacy’ likely to benefit the international education community?

It’s not only the biggest sporting event on earth. It’s also the most intensive, widespread and impactful advertising platform a country could hope to secure. In this day and age of 24/7 news channels, sophisticated online streaming, content on phones and tablets, the Olympics has the ability to showcase a city and a host country like never before.

Much of the talk about London’s successful bid for the Olympics, secured in Singapore way back in July 2005, was about the legacy that the Games would bring in terms of regeneration, infrastructure and business. What might that mean in reality for international education?

The lessons from Sydney
It is generally agreed that the Sydney Olympics back in 2000 were one of the most successful ever. Twelve years on, The Sydney Olympic Park is a sophisticated commercial, retail, medical and education centre, home to over 130 businesses. One of those businesses is the Australian College of Physical Education (ACPE), owned by Study Group, providing sport, dance and health education related degrees. A definite legacy success in terms of infrastructure.

From a wider international student perspective, the Games in Sydney appeared to have a genuinely positive effect. Warren Jacobson, Managing Director Australasia, says that international student numbers grew significantly from 2001 onwards.

"The impact of the Olympics was and remains a key factor in students' awareness of Australia and in particular Sydney as a destination, and many still cite the Olympics as their earliest and strongest memory of Australia. After the Olympics, Australia became easier for us to market as a destination for international students. We not only saw a growth in student numbers, we also saw an increase in diversity."

Athens and Beijing
The two Olympic Games since Sydney have rather different legacy stories. The 2004 Athens Olympics is currently epitomised by abandoned facilities and cracked pools. With the economy in a similarly precarious state, no one is claiming a positive legacy from the Games.

Beijing’s legacy was always going to be more about global perceptions of China than inward investment. All the buildings and infrastructure were designed to trumpet the arrival of China as a global superpower. Certainly the iconic ‘Bird’s Nest’ has become part of the tourist trail and is regularly used for international sports tournaments.

What of London?
James Pitman, Managing Director, Higher Education UK and Europe, says that he fully expects the Olympic Games to deliver a positive legacy for international students.

“The Games have been brilliantly orchestrated in the UK, showcasing London as the open dynamic, inclusive city that it truly is. Whilst we didn’t need to persuade the international community that this is a world-class city, we do want to remind students that it is a young progressive, exciting place to be. The Olympics will have supported that idea and I fully expect us to see an increase in applications to UK universities from all over the world.”

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