Across the education sector, course commencements fell by 7.2% to 117,136 in the year to March 2012. Particularly worrying was the accelerating decline in higher education, where commencements fell 6% to 52,101 compared with 2% in the year to March 2011.
Vocational education and training commencements also fell 8.3% to 29,627. However, the Elicos (English language intensive courses for overseas students) sector’s drop of 5.6% to 21,224 , compared with -22% last year, has been called a recovery by some observers.
Executive director of English Australia, Sue Blundell explained: “The Higher Education student ‘pipeline’ is longer than the Elicos sector which means that they are usually the last to see declines whereas [our sector] sees declines first but also sees the return to growth first as well.”
However, she saw no evidence of a rapid turnaround. “Whilst the [English language] decline seems to have slowed, I would be alarmed if it hadn’t as it couldn’t continue at the rate it had been falling. It is important to remember that the percentage decline for YTD March is a further decline on top of declining numbers in previous years,” she said.
Stable numbers of visitor visa holders and increasing numbers of working holiday visa holders was “good news”
AEI said enrolments (as opposed to course commencements) across all sectors had declined by 8.5% to 351,878, with striking falls from India, down 25%, Nepal 14.6%, and Sri Lanka 14.6%.
There were some success stories: HE saw commencements from the Indian market climb 27.3%, although this followed the huge tail-off caused by attacks on Indians in Australia and resulting bad press in 2010.
In the Elicos sector, Colombia climbed 11.7% to 1,637 following a 10.5% fall last year. However, the Chinese market – the sector’s largest student source – declined by a concerning 21.3% and current bad press around attacks on Chinese students won’t help.
On balance, Blundell said she was pessimistic about the country’s English language sector’s prospects given the decline in longer term student visa holders who generate the majority of the sector’s revenue.
However, she said the stable numbers of visitor visa holders and increasing numbers of working holiday and other visa holders was “good news”, having “somewhat mitigated the decline in student visa holders”.