IN THE "dog-eat-dog" world of gaining a bigger share of the education economy, the Gold Coast needs to project a sophisticated and progressive image, says an industry researcher.

Rob Lawrence (pictured left), of Prospect Research and Marketing, says while the Gold Coast is known for its sun, surf and relaxed environment, the city needs to market itself as a contemporary world city if it wants to gain a bigger slice of the $16 billion a year that international students contribute to the Australian economy.

Lawrence, who has an international reputation for understanding the motives and drivers of students and interviews thousands of students and opinion leaders each year, says the Gold Coast should promote construction and the development of sports and medical facilities.

"There are 8100 universities around the world with an active international marketing recruitment operation," says Lawrence, who has worked in 40 different countries.

"We are not dealing with a few universities, it is enormously competitive out there - it is intense, it is horrible and it is very dog-eat-dog in many senses.

"Show the surf, you have got to, it is your biggest asset.  But show that it is no longer the fun city. You can have fun, but show it as the most modern, contemporary, progressive city in Australia."

Lawrence says this will help to perpetuate growth and allow Study Gold Coast to compete with the likes of countless other agencies around the world with the same motive, including Study London, Study Vancouver and Study Berlin.

Study Gold Coast chief executive Shannon Willoughby (pictured below) says recent research shows there are around 14,000 international students in the city with the economic impact of spending by students benefiting other industries including retail, property, hospitality and tourism.

It is estimated that each international student on the Gold Coast contributes up to $70,000 to the local economy each year.

"And it is more than economics, international students create smart jobs for industries - the more students that come here, the more teachers, lecturers, researchers and academics are attracted to the city because there are more jobs available to them," says Willoughby.

"With the establishment of Study Gold Coast, we are in a position now to be able to trumpet the value of the entire sector across the entire board and speak to all levels of government about the positive benefits of increasing capacity of the education sector.

"China is the first cab off the rank for us and that sits in line with the city's pre-existing relationships with China. 

"The other markets that we will be looking at and have looked at include Japan, the Middle East and Latin America."

Lawrence agrees that the economic impact of international students goes far beyond the university classroom.

"It is estimated that the international education industry has generated 1.7 million visitors into Australia since 2000," says Lawrence.

"About one third of undergraduates have had a visitor in the past year and the average stay when they come here is 21 days."

Lawrence adds that about 135,000 properties around Australia are used by international students for accommodation.

"In 2015, the average rental paid by an international student in Australia is $228 the average weekly living costs are $146," says Lawrence.

Lawrence says the Gold Coast education sector needs to get wider community support which includes employers allowing international students to gain part-time employment.

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