Australian international education earnings on the rise

Multibillion-dollar industry bouncing back as visa grants and international arrivals surge

February 28, 2023

Australia’s vaunted international education industry has turned the corner after Covid, with export revenue data showing that the trade is roaring back towards its pre-pandemic heights.

“Education-related personal travel” – a term encompassing spending by foreign students in Australia, as well as the tuition fees paid to universities and colleges – was worth more than A$25.5 billion (£14.2 billion) in 2022, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

This constituted a 16 per cent increase compared with 2021, although it was still 36 per cent below the record 2019 earnings of more than A$40 billion.

The September-December quarter was the most lucrative three-month stretch in two years, raking in almost A$7.6 billion. This was about two-thirds more than the corresponding period in 2021, but one-quarter less than the A$10-plus billion amassed in the December 2019 quarter.

The figures are good news for the neighbourhoods where international students congregate. Typically, some 40 per cent of foreign students’ spending goes on fees, with the rest shared by accommodation providers, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and other services.

If export earnings from “correspondence courses” are factored in, international education earned Australia just over A$29 billion last year – 28 per cent shy of the 2019 takings.

Remotely delivered courses, which netted annual export earnings of less than A$10 million in the years leading up to the pandemic, have become a major earner since then. But there are signs that the trade is coming off the boil, with the 2022 revenue of about A$3.5 billion well below the 2021 figure of almost A$5 billion.

The ABS said international education, along with mining and tourism, had boosted the country’s exports by 3 per cent over the past quarter and helped produce the second highest trade surplus on record.

Universities Australia said that the sector’s “ongoing recovery” was helping to improve Australia’s economic position in a “tough” fiscal landscape. “Education is our largest services export and the biggest product we don’t source from the ground,” said chief executive Catriona Jackson.

“The export income our universities help generate pays for essential services and underpins a higher standard of living for all Australians, regardless of where they live.”

ABS international arrivals data released in mid-February showed that almost 60,000 foreign students reached Australia in January alone – nearly seven times as many as in the same month last year, and just 10 per cent below the number of arrivals in January 2020.

More than 270,000 international higher education students were in Australia by 20 February, with another 70,000 located elsewhere.

International education analyst Keri Ramirez said 36 per cent more higher education student visas had been granted in the latter half of 2022 than in the equivalent period of 2019. Almost half had been awarded in November and December , with both months producing “record numbers that we have never seen before”.

Mr Ramirez, managing director of consultants Studymove, said visa grants to Chinese applicants had rebounded to 2019 levels while India was attracting “way more” higher education visas than in the pre-pandemic period. Much of the growth had been driven by visa applicants aged over 24, he said.

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