According to Deloitte Access Economics’s The economic contribution of international students, overseas student expenditure fell from $18.1 billion in FY2009-10 to $14.7 billion – down 19%. Enrolments were down from 491,176 in the 2009 calendar year to 426,748 in 2011.
It blames factors including the high Australian dollar and increased competition in the international student market, which have hit all sectors. However, while there has been a “steady increase in university enrolments” since 2009, numbers have fallen by a third in the vocational education and training (VET) and English language sectors.
Vocational and ELICOS providers have seen number fall by a third
Claire Field, the CEO of ACPET (which represents more than 1,000 VET, English and HE providers), said the figures showed the government needed to extend visa reform for VET and ELICOS, as it has done for higher education.
“A key recommendation of the 2011 Knight Review is that streamlined visa processing measures be introduced beyond the university sector. This delay is compounding uncertainty for providers and prospective students, with negative effects for the sector and the economy,” she said.
Since the downturn, the federal government has introduced sweeping immigration reforms to protect the universities—increasing post-study work rights to two and three years for foreign bachelors and masters students and streamlining visa processing for key student markets. But reform has been muted in ELICOS and VET, which some attribute to a rise in visa fraud in the sectors in 2008 and 2009.
The report suggests this is proving a costly error. “Non-government” providers – 83% of which are private ELICOS and VET outfits – accounted for 52% of the international education sector in 2009. Yet they saw enrolment fall 20% between 2009 and 2011 compared to 2% for government providers.
The report says the VET sector (which received 30% of all visa applications in 2011) has suffered especially. It faced extra barriers following the reduction in employment categories available through the General Skilled Migration programme in 2010, which narrowed the route to permanent residency.
“This delay is compounding uncertainty for providers and prospective students”
The report also claims the reputational damage caused by attacks on Indians in 2009 “predominantly affected demand for the VET sector”. Indian applications overall fell 50% between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
While VET enrolment continued to fall in 2012, recent statistics show ELICOS – often viewed as a bellwether for the education sector – may be seeing a rebound. It saw four consecutive months of growth to December, culminating in a 69% rise in commencements.
Executive Director of English Australia, Sue Blundell, told The PIE News that the success of the recovery depended on further reform. “The signs are there that we are going to experience a recovery in 2013. However despite a strong halo effect across the industry, some of the key Knight reforms only favour certain types of providers, for example universities, so this recovery may be experienced to a greater or lesser degree by different providers,” she said.