51 per cent drop in international student applications at Australian universities

"I cannot be clearer about our desire to get international students back into the country. They have been an incredible source of revenue for our institutions and other businesses," said Minister Tudge

Australia’s strict border closure due to the COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on international student enrolment at Australian universities.

International student visa holders have been locked out of Australia for close to 20 months.

Many have also been left campaigning for their return and appealing to the authorities to create a plan to bring them back. 

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Findings from Adventus, international student recruitment marketplaces, show that the number of students applying to study at Australian universities has dropped 51% since March this year.

Image source: Adventus Chief Executive Officer Ryan Trainor.

Adventus Chief Executive Officer Ryan Trainor told AAP that students are looking elsewhere.

“This may have a long-term impact on the country as we have lost nearly two years of students and the flow-on effect may have longer-term implications if the government does not create a united, every-state message to the students worldwide.” 

The latest Australian government figures show there are currently 259,752 student visa holders in Australia while 148,464 student visa holders outside of Australia.

Image source: Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Anne-Marie Lansdown.

Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Anne-Marie Lansdown told AAP there had been a decline in commencing international students.

“The closure of international borders during the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had an impact on the willingness of international students to enrol at an Australian university.”

Adventus also found that since March applications had grown by 148 per cent in Canada, 150 per cent in the United Kingdom, and 422 per cent in the United States.

In the light of the pilot plans that have been announced by New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland, the return of the international students to Australia appears optimistic.

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Those education providers that have been more dependent on the Indian, Nepalese and Vietnamese as opposed to the Chinese market, have also been hit very hard, with commencement numbers from those markets falling very hard.

Whereas, the commencement numbers for Chinese higher education students overall is down only 26% and some public universities have actually had an increase in international student enrolments (offshore of course).

Image source: Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge.

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge speaking at #AIEC2021 said:

“I cannot be clearer about our desire to get international students back into the country.  They have been an incredible source of revenue for our institutions and other businesses, they generate important linkages across our neighbouring countries, and many students have gone on to become outstanding citizens of our nation.”

He further added:

“Of course, they have also been an important source of labour while they are here, not just during their time that they are studying, but also in their post-study work rights which many students take advantage of.”

On the question when we do start to get our international student numbers up again, Minister Tudge said:

“We do need to do things differently to make the sector more sustainable and to create new opportunities for growth.”

Australia is highly concentrated in students from five countries, and particularly from China and India. 

The top five source markets make up 72 per cent of university enrolments compared with 61 per cent in the United States, 45 percent in the UK and 66 per cent in Canada.

In some universities, one nationality makes up 80 per cent of their entire international student cohort.

Ideally, Australia would also like to have a greater diversity of courses in which international students enrol. And in particular, a stronger alignment with Australian skills needs, given that so many international students do stay on and become long term residents.

The National Skills Commission has identified greater skills needs in emerging fields that will drive growth in the future. These include data and digital specialists, the health profession, and engineers — especially those in energy.

However, currently, almost half of the international enrolments at Australian Universities are concentrated in commerce, while fields like engineering, maths, technology and health attract significantly lower shares than the OECD average.