Image of Australia’s six-year run – almost 695k students in 2018

Australia is still on the rise, for the sixth year in row. In 2018, the country hosted 693,800 international students, an increase of 11% from 2017, according to figures from the Department of Education and Training.

China and India are firmly at the top, increasing by 11% and 32% from 2017 respectively – as well as seeing an increase in enrolments.

Some stakeholders have raised concerns about the sustainability of the current growth rates, especially in view of the fact that it is not equally spread – while higher education and VET keep running the show, other sectors are stationary or falling behind. Others have pointed at possible political changes and community push-backs that could deflect the industry’s winning trajectory.

Studyportals executive vice president of global engagement and research Rahul Choudaha told The PIE that with high-quality institutions and potential pathways for work experience and permanent residence, student demand is certainly not a challenge for Australia – but policy can be.

“The challenge for Australia is more at the institutional and policy level rather than at the student demand level,” he said.

“The political and community push-back in terms of the presence of international students and overdependence on a few source countries is a crucial threat which in turn may hurt student demand.”

Looking at the top source countries, India has been growing faster than China. According to Choudaha, this stems from a megatrend of demographic shifts rapidly expanding youth population in lower-middle income countries like India, while China’s growth is slowing down due to a combination of factors, including geopolitical tensions and economic

India is at an inflection point where two broad segments of students are emerging,” he explained.

“The first segment is the traditional segment of value-maximizers who seek lower cost and higher immigration potential. The other emerging segment is the experience-seekers who prioritize the reputation of institution and location.”

Both Australia and Canada, he added, are attractive to Indian students as they offer a clearer path for gaining work experience and potential immigration.

Anecdotally, Australian and Canadian stakeholders last year have relayed that they each consider the other country as their first competitor in the industry.

Enrolments were also unevenly distributed across Australia, with New South Wales and Victoria topping the charts – plans to encourage international students to choose rural destinations have been underway, and the new budget announced new funding for this purpose (but axed a two-way mobility scheme in the process). The second graph below shows the growth in enrolment numbers for each sector in each state.

As sectors had different growth rates across states, they also had slightly different source markets. The first table shows the top 25 source countries for the industry and their change from 2017 – the green arrows clearly outnumber the red ones.

However, beyond the well-known fact that China still dwarfs even the rest of the top 5 countries, a breakdown of the top markets by sector reveals a different picture.

While HE and VET boast a high number of green arrows, schools and especially English language programs, known as English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students, and non-award are definitely more on the red side.

“Some of the tightening of regulatory and visa policies for ELICOS has dampened the demand,” Choudaha said.

“The compounding effect of geopolitical tensions and economic challenges has also resulted in the devaluation of currency in some of the key source countries which made it more expensive to study in Australia.”

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