Based on an interview with Andrew Barkla, Chief Executive Officer

In the early 1960s, a conversation between Indonesia’s Minister for Higher Education and Australia’s Ambassador in Jakarta posed the question: “Is there a role for Australia to share agriculture science learnings with Indonesia?” This discussion planted the seed for the start of IDP, an organisation that, in time, would grow to be a world leader in its sector. IDP would go on to help nearly half a million people achieve an international education through its global office network, and co-own the world-leading English language test, IELTS.

Over the past five years, IDP has continued to invest in its physical network, but has undergone a digital transformation that has dramatically expanded its service offering. When CEO Andrew Barkla took IDP Education public in 2015, he did so with the mission to build the world’s leading platform to support students through the entire course of their international education journey. Under Barkla’s leadership, IDP Education has integrated its physical network with a new online platform. This has enabled it to become the global leader in student course searches, streamline its existing student placement and English-testing services, and further extend its offerings in student events, in-country support and careers advice and placement.


Over decades, IDP Education extended its core offering to focus on English language testing, student placement services and English language teaching.

Barkla recognised IDP Education’s established physical network of offices around the world placed it ahead of any competition as a provider of these services to students seeking to study in Australia and other leading study destinations. He also saw that as students increasingly looked to online services to plan their overseas study, IDP Education needed to step up its engagement in the digital space.

Barkla describes the strategy IDP Education adopted as “first and foremost focused on leveraging digital capabilities to connect closer with students, enabling us to go well beyond what you can reach as a physical organisation”.

He explains: “I saw that if we didn’t move past organic growth, we risked insurgents disaggregating the market. Our goal was not to turn our back on organic growth, but to change the DNA of the company by building in digital capability that focused on customers.

“The digital business enables us to accelerate new services based on data and insights and engagement that universities and potentially other parties can take advantage of.”

IDP Education’s acquisition of international course search company Hotcourses in 2017 accelerated the company’s digitisation. Barkla says: “When we acquired Hotcourses it was the most engaged digital platform for international student searches on the planet. The site registered 65 to 70 million searches, with universities around the world using it to represent their courses. We took this in alongside our own new digital footprint, and brought in some deep technologies around marketing, automation and lead scoring, as well as new people.”


Through its hybrid strategy, IDP Education has evolved from an international company focused on supporting students coming to Australia to a global company connecting students to universities all over the world. To drive innovation, a new digital campus was built in Chennai that brought together more than 400 digital experts. Adding to this new capability, 16 new strategic roles in every region, particularly in digital marketing, has given the company the capacity to manage and grow a much larger pipeline.

Barkla explains the possibilities greater scale creates for the company. “If you take the organic strategy, it was about taking the many countries we were in sourcing students to primarily service Australian clients, and through the last decade building capability in those countries to serve university clients in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Ireland.”

At the same time the company has gained the capacity to engage digitally with students through the early stages of search, which creates data on student preferences and propensities. “I would say we have built the largest student dataset in the world. What you can do with that is only limited by your imagination.”

Integration of its physical networks and digital platform has helped IDP Education maintain its global leadership in the provision of services to international students. It has also positioned the company as the leading innovator of its industry. The services IDP Education is developing for university clients using its new datasets is a strong example of this leadership. Barkla explains: “We’re using the data to accelerate the growth of our business. We are building a marketplace at the moment where universities can come to us and define what kind of student cohort they want, specifying the kind of diversity or student credentials they are seeking. This will change the whole model of the industry. In that context we will leave behind the vast majority of our competitors.”