Chinese and Indian students and other Asian nations have long been attracted to study in Australia because of its famous universities, English-speaking environment, and decent way of living. Prior to the Pandemic, international education provided $40 b AUD ($29.5 b) to the GDP, ranking it fourth after iron ore, coal, and gas.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), international students accounted for 21% of all university enrollments in 2019, compared to an average of 6% in developed countries.
According to the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment figures displays the result of Australia’s plan to close its borders in March 2020, that is how international enrollments fell by more than 2,00,000 in the 20 months leading up to August 2021.
The number of international students fell to its lowest level in August since 2015, totalling slightly over 5,50,000. Students from China were the most numerous among overseas students, followed by those from India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Malaysia.
Applications from international students had dropped by 51% since March, while applications to Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States had increased by 148-422 per cent. Despite the fact that Australia reopened its borders to citizens and permanent residents on November 1, the government has not established a timeline for when overseas students will be able to return to the country in large numbers.
New South Wales and Victoria have launched trial programs to accept a restricted number of overseas students. This plan is expected to be executed by next month.
Analysts have predicted a years-long financial repercussion for the industry. The Mitchell Institute, based in Melbourne, forecast in August that the industry’s losses would not be over until 2020 when university profits plummeted by $1.6 b.
One of the big four firms, Ernst & Young predicted that demand for higher education would never return to pre-pandemic levels, with university earnings potentially falling by $5-6 b by 2030. “I think universities are nervous,” said Peter Hurley, a Mitchell Institute Education Policy fellow.
According to Andrew Norton, an expert in higher education policy at Australian National University, international enrollments will not recover to 2019 levels anytime soon, but the longer-term trajectory is impossible to forecast.
“Australia has ongoing advantages in proximity to Asia and climate,” Norton said. “But other factors such as competitor strategies, political tensions with China, migration settings, regulatory changes around English language ability and future outlier events such as Covid-19 could all influence the scale of the market.”
The “basic attraction” of third-level education in Australia, according to Anne-Marie Lansdown, Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia, which represents universities in the country, has not altered, and students are likely to come back in big numbers next year.
“Our universities remain among the best in the world, attracting scholars from more than 140 different countries prior to the pandemic,” Lansdown said, adding that 91 per cent of international students surveyed in Australia in 2020 reported a positive experience in the country. “Universities have worked incredibly hard to support all students who have very resiliently adapted to online learning – regardless of their geographic location.”
Though Australian experts are expecting and anticipating the recovery of the international education market, students are frustrated after being in limbo for nearly two years.