A preferred destination for international students

"The most significant feature of the tertiary education landscape in Australia is the large proportion of international students,” says the OECD report Education at a Glance 2013. The land down under is a key destination for students from around the world, hosting more than 6% of its foreign students.

“This figure places Australia as the third most popular destination after the US (16%) and the UK (13%). One in five of the students enrolled in tertiary education in Australia in 2011 were international students, the highest proportion among all OECD countries, against an OECD average of 7%,” the report states.

“The country receives almost 20 times more international students than the number of Australian students who choose to study in tertiary programmes abroad.”

The report notes that Australia’s total expenditure for all levels of education relative to gross domestic product in 2010 was 6%, the same proportion as the OECD average of 6%. Significant increases in government investment between 2008 and 2010 saw Australia’s spending increase by 24% – or more than four times the OECD average increase of 5%.

“In 2010, Australia devoted about US$10,825 per student each year at all levels from primary to tertiary education, compared with the OECD average of US$ 9.313 per student,” the report says. “In 2010, 74% of Australia’s total expenditure on educational institutions came from public sources, lower than the OECD average of 84%.

“In fact, at 26%, Australia has the sixth largest proportion of private expenditure in the OECD for all levels of education compared with an OECD average of 16%. At the tertiary level, 54% of all spending came from private sources, again much higher than the OECD average of 32%.”

The report says educational attainment is high in Australia, where 74% of 25- to 64-year-olds have at least an upper secondary qualification, compared to the OECD average of 76%. The proportion of adults completing upper secondary education has increased significantly across generations, with 84% of 25- to 34-year-olds holding an upper secondary qualification compared to 61% among 55- to 64-year-olds.

Overall, tertiary attainment rates are well above the OECD average: 38% of the working age population holds a university degree, when the OECD average is 32%. This proportion rises to 45% among 25- to 34-year-olds compared to the OECD average of 39%.

But the OECD statisticians do not take account of the fact that a significant number of university graduates are from overseas and not Australian residents or immigrants. It is their presence that inflates the 45% figure, when the proportion of Australian citizens or migrants is about the OECD average.

But the report does mention that international students have a marked impact on estimated graduation rates and that because of the high proportion graduation rates are artificially inflated.

“For example, when international students are excluded from consideration, Australia’s graduation rates for first-time tertiary-type A (theoretical university-based programmes) courses drop by 17 percentage points, and first-time tertiary-type B (shorter , more vocationally oriented programmes) graduation rates drop by 3 percentage points.”