Thursday, 13 Dec 2012

13 December 2012: A higher education research briefing paper released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), drawing on new data*, has confirmed the dramatic decline of international student enrolments in higher education in recent years and has highlighted how a massive downturn in Indian students has been a key driver in this overall trend.

The number of higher education visas for Indian students declined from 34 200 in 2007/08 to just 9750 in 2011/12 – a 71 per cent fall, according to ACER’s most recent Joining the Dots briefing paper. The briefing, co-authored by ACER researchers Dr Daniel Edwards and Ms Eva van der Brugge, attributes this decline to five key factors:

  • Changes to the Australian migration program that weakened the connection between studying in Australia and gaining permanent residency
  • Strengthening of the Australian dollar
  • Negative impact on Australian education as a result of violence against international students that gained widespread media attention
  • Closure of some tertiary providers (mainly in the VET area)
  • Growing competition for international students both from traditional competitors (US, UK, Canada and NZ) as well as from developing nations.

Dr Edwards said the decline in overseas higher education students studying in Australia in recent years is not confined to Indian students, as there was also a decrease in other source countries too.

“The downturn in international students in Australian higher education since 2009, following years of very strong growth, has also come from other key countries such as China and Malaysia. However, the declines in these countries are far smaller than that recorded for India,” Dr Edwards said.

Dr Edwards said the international student market is lucrative, and while Australia has been at the forefront of provision over the past two decades, other developed and developing countries are increasing their presence in the market.

“While Australia’s international student numbers are declining, key competitors in this market, such as the USA, UK, New Zealand and Canada, have all experienced growth since 2009, suggesting there may be factors specific to Australia influencing this decline,” Dr Edwards said.

“More than 100 countries are now enrolling international students in tertiary education, with many in the Asian region developing their capabilities in this regard over the past five or so years. In addition to this, higher education institutions in the USA have increased their intake of international students in

recent years, and Canada has increased its international recruiting activity by easing visa requirements for international students.”

Joining the Dots is a subscription-based resource provided by ACER to those with an interest in Australian higher education. Details for subscriptions are available at

* The ACER Joining the Dots research briefing ‘Recent trends in higher student visa numbers’ draws on new data from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, supplemented by statistics collected from the Australian Education International and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. It also uses data from the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada for comparative purposes.


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