Overseas recruitment rebound still well below pre-pandemic peak

Australian universities ‘have work to do’ to recover international student enrolments

December 15, 2022
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International student flows into Australia remain well below pre-pandemic levels despite reaching a 30-month high.

About 70,000 students entered Australia over the three months to August, compared with none in the corresponding periods of 2021 and 2020, but more than 140,000 in the equivalent period of 2019.

The August quarter is usually a secondary arrival period for foreign students, with most preferring to be on hand for the start of the academic year in late February or early March. But the reverse applied this year, with only about 50,000 students entering Australia by the end of February after the country’s borders reopened in December 2021.

By October this year, monthly student arrivals were still 44 per cent below pre-Covid levels. Student departures were also languishing, with some 40,000 students leaving Australia over the three months to November – when classes have normally concluded – compared with about 140,000 in the same period of 2019.

Universities Australia said students were “steadily returning” to Australia’s universities “but we have work to do to return to the position of strength we held before the pandemic”.

“Return patterns are not even across the sector, with some universities finding returns slower,” noted chief executive Catriona Jackson. “International students make an enormous social, cultural and economic contribution to our nation.”

The data suggest that the net increase in the number of people with Australian student visas is stronger than ever, after two years in which the pool shrank substantially. However, tens of thousands of people with visas to study in Australia remain offshore.

Chinese visa holders find it particularly difficult to secure permission to leave their homeland. By September, some 27 per cent of the 110,000-plus Chinese people with visas to study in Australia remained abroad, compared with about 5 per cent of foreign students from other countries. The location of another 7 per cent of Chinese visa holders was unclear.


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