International student numbers up 15% on last year

Australia has bolstered its popularity as a world class education destination with new data showing international student numbers jumped up by 15% in the first three months of this year compared to 2016.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the surging international student numbers came on top of growth of around 10.5% since the Coalition government came to power in 2013.

Minister Birmingham said the Turnbull Government was committed to supporting the sustainable growth of the international education sector and protecting the strong practical measures outlined in the country’s first National Strategy for International Education 2025.

“In 2017 Australia hosted a record number of international students as more than 550,000 students from over 190 different nations flocked to our shores,” Birmingham said.

“The Turnbull Government recognises the importance of our international education system and has reversed the damage done by the previous Labor government’s erratic changes to student visas that resulted in billions of dollars of damage to the international education sector.

“Our international education system is critical in Australia’s economic prosperity as we continue to transition from an economy built on the success of the mining and construction boom to an economy based on knowledge, services and innovation.”

Minister Birmingham said the first three months of data captured students commencing higher education in the first semester of 2017, as well as students commencing full-year courses in vocational education and training and in schools.

“We are on track to see another record year for Australian international education,” Birmingham said.

“Building on Australia’s reputation as a world-class international education offering, various geopolitical factors create new possibilities for Australia to maximise our share of the growing number of students who are travelling from all over the world to study.”

Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke said that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had received more than 111,000 student visa applications in the first quarter of 2017, up from around 94,000 for the same period in 2016.

“This is a significant increase compared to the same time in the previous year and symbolises the efforts Australia has undertaken to attract international students,” Minister Hawke said.

“All education sectors had experienced growth in international students during the first quarter of 2017 – the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students [ELICOS] sector grew by almost 38%, the higher education sector by almost 23% and the VET [vocational education and training] sector by almost 13%.”

The education of international students generates AU$22.4 billion (US$16.7 billion) in income for Australia each year, with our world-class universities attracting AU$15 billion (US$11 billion) of that income into our national economy.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson said these latest growth figures highlighted the enormous contribution of Australia’s high-quality university system to national prosperity.

“We know that international students are attracted to Australia by the excellent quality of the education we provide and the calibre of both teaching and research here,” Robinson said.

“That’s why proposed cuts to university funding have to be considered so carefully by the Parliament. Any erosion in the quality of our higher education sector would diminish both the education of Australian students and jeopardise this enormously important export sector.”

There were 480,092 international students in Australia in March 2017 – with 30% of them from China, 11% from India, and 4% each from Malaysia, Vietnam and Nepal.

A 2016 survey by the Australian government confirmed that the reputation of the Australian education system was the top reason that international students gave for choosing to study here.

“Quality is our drawcard,” Robinson said. “We must guard it wisely.”

Expanding cooperation with the UK

Meanwhile, Australian and British university leaders held high-level talks in London on Thursday on expanding cooperation between the two nations as Brexit gets underway.

The strategic dialogue will be attended by Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer, senior UK government officials, vice-chancellors of nine leading universities, and three sector peak bodies – Universities Australia, Universities UK, and Universities Scotland.

The leaders looked at how to deepen bilateral ties through the exchange of brilliant academic and research talent, university research collaborations, reciprocal access to data and infrastructure, and the prospect of establishing a special reciprocal visa for academic talent.

The group also examined the feasibility of establishing a new bilateral research fund to take joint research to a new level of collaboration.

“We see enormous potential to expand the depth and breadth of the bilateral relationship through our respective university sectors,” said Robinson, head of Universities Australia.

Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: “The time is right to re-appraise and re-energise this relationship.”

Professor Ed Byrne, President and Principal of King’s College London, added: “The quality and impact of the research when UK and Australian university researchers work together to tackle complex questions has been strong. Whether it is in blue skies research, or in developing innovative, applied solutions for business and industry. Those partnerships provide us with a firm basis for building even stronger collaborations in future.”