International student numbers in Australia grew by 15 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2017, figures show.
Some 480,092 international students were enrolled in Australia in March 2017, of which about 280,000 were on university courses, according to statistics released by the country’s Department of Education and Training on 26 May.
Overall, 30 per cent of the international students were from China, and 11 per cent were from India, while Malaysia, Vietnam and Nepal each accounted for 4 per cent, generating A$22.4 billion (£13 billion) in income for the Australian economy (A$15 billion when only higher education students are considered).
The student number growth was highest among Chinese students, with numbers rising by 20,000 to 140,000 (17 per cent) between March 2016 and March 2017.
Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said that the 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,” Ms Robinson said.
Proposed cuts to university funding have to be considered carefully by parliament because they could lead to a deterioration of teaching quality, she said.
“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,” said Ms Robinson, who added that “quality is our drawcard” for international students and “we must guard it wisely”.
In contrast, the latest figures for the UK show that overseas student enrolments fell by 1 per cent between 2014-15 and 2015-16, with growth either flat or in decline for all countries except China and Hong Kong between 2011-12 and 2015-16.
Data released by Universities Australia also confirm the huge contribution that international students make to the economies of each state and territory across Australia.
International education contributes A$8 billion annually to New South Wales, A$7 billion to Victoria, A$3.2 billion to Queensland, A$1.5 billion to Western Australia, and A$1.1 billion to South Australia.