International students are not returning to Australian universities as fast as some might have predicted.
International students were barred from entering Australia for nearly two years due to the country’s strict border controls. While the resumption of the border in December came as a relief to thousands of stranded students eager to return, student sentiment had already suffered during the period when borders were closed.
During that time, the government had repeatedly shelved pilot plans for student return. According to Al Jazeera, 56,000 international students have already arrived in Australia to begin or resume their studies at universities, and another 50,000 have applied for student visas. According to the report, approximately 120,000 people remain abroad for a variety of reasons. This includes Chinese students who are unable to leave the country due to border closures.
“Some of them won’t come back,” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson told Al Jazeera.
“There’s no pretending we have not had a really hard time in the last two years. We’re not out of the woods yet but the pandemic has proved our universities are resilient.”
As per the report, only 58 percent of international students currently enrolled at Australian universities plan to return to campus this year, with 41 percent planning to study elsewhere, citing a survey conducted by student support service provider Studiosity.
“Australia’s institutions were fully aware that the policy settings that have been in place for the past two years meant it would be difficult to simply turn the tap back on,” Andrew Barkla, CEO of international education support organisation IDP, was quoted saying.
“Students have grown tired of waiting to return.”
Individually, an expert predicted that incoming student flows would take “a number of years” to return to pre-pandemic levels. According to the report, the number of Chinese student commencements is down nearly 40% from 2019, and fewer Chinese students in Australian universities may cause a “split within the sector, as more prestigious universities absorb the smaller number of Chinese students.”
“We believe Australian universities will continue to attract international students, especially from Asia,” said Rebecca Hrvatin, an analyst at S&P Global Ratings.
Countries with a growing middle class, such as the subcontinent – India, Nepal, and Pakistan – and southeast Asian countries – Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia – are driving growth in international student markets in the region. Hrvatin forecasts that incoming student flows will take “a number of years” to return to pre-pandemic levels.
As per The PIE News, citing a report from credit risk research firm S&P Global Ratings, the number of international students entering the country is down 75% from pre-pandemic levels, despite Australia’s borders now being open to fully vaccinated travellers which include students. Following the country’s “Fortress Australia” response to the pandemic, the country implemented policies to increase its appeal as a study abroad destination, such as the temporary removal of working hour caps, the visa refund scheme, and 485 visa renewals.
A few Australian universities are also establishing new campuses in Asia, where many of the country’s international students come from. In February, the University of Newcastle opened a new campus in Singapore. It serves as a transitional residence for international students from China. According to its global vice-chancellor Kent Anderson, the campus offers a programme in which students can spend their first two years in China and their second two years in Australia.
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