Australian international education revenues up 15 per cent

But flagging Chinese applications could dampen future growth

February 5, 2019
Australian dollars

Earnings from Australia’s booming international education industry show no signs of abating, with revenue soaring to almost A$35 billion (£19.3 billion) in the past calendar year.

Newly released data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that international education reaped the country A$34.9 billion in 2018, up from A$30.3 billion in 2017 and A$25.8 billion in 2016.

The figures reflect annual earnings growth of about 15 per cent year on year over the past three years. They include two three-month stretches where revenue exceeded A$9 billion – well up on the previous quarterly record of about A$7.8 billion in early 2017.

The data, released on 5 February, show that international education remains easily Australia’s biggest service export – bagging about 54 per cent more than tourism, and about seven times as much as financial services – and the third most lucrative overall after iron ore and coal.

Recently released student visa statistics suggest that the industry’s growth will not stop any time soon. More than 190,000 would-be foreign students lodged applications for visas to study in Australia last year, up more than 10 per cent on the 2017 figure.

However, interest from the critical market of China has waned slightly, with applications over the second half of 2018 down 2 per cent compared with the equivalent period of 2017.

A new report published by Austrade says that the prospects for Australia’s education exports remain robust even though Chinese outbound student numbers began to “level off” around 2013, and the country’s college-aged population is expected to decline by about 40 per cent between 2010 and 2025.

The report, by Dutch international education marketing company Studyportals, says that its website analytics reveal roaring demand for Australian bachelor’s degrees from elsewhere in the world – particularly India and Sri Lanka, where web traffic rose more than tenfold last year.

There was also surging demand from the key English-speaking competitor countries of the UK, US and Canada, where views of Australian courses roughly doubled.

While international interest in study at the postgraduate level has increased more slowly, Sri Lanka, Iran and India show strong growth. But the report stresses that Studyportals data does not accurately reflect interest from Chinese students because of internet restrictions in their country.

“We…see strong potential in recruiting students from other key sending countries which are showing a strong interest in Australia,” the report authors say. “While their numbers can never fully replace the reliance on Chinese students, they can help universities protect against possible dips or slow-downs from Chinese students.”

The report says that the “market opportunity” for courses in Australia – the relative student interest factored against the global share of courses – is surpassed only by Canada and the European Economic Area, where low tuition fees for English-taught courses are shepherding increasing numbers of foreigners to countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway.

Nevertheless, the report says that Australia is well placed to claim a healthy share of the additional 2.3 million globally mobile students expected by 2030 – an increase that triples the rate of population growth. The authors say that there is particularly strong demand for Australian medicine and health courses, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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