A new report from the government’s Australian Education International arm shows that the total number of international student visa holders in Australia fell 9.5% in 2011, from 524,061 to 474,249. This follows a 4.4% decrease in 2010.
Speaking with The Australian, University of Melbourne higher education expert Professor Simon Marginson said the downturn had completely wiped out revenue growth since 2007. “It bears out our worst fears about the downturn,” he said.
All sectors contributed to the decline except for higher education, which increased by 0.1%, still a slowdown next to the 7.6% rise in 2010.
In addition, the ELICOS sector – the most common inter-sector pathway to higher education – decreased 17.3%.
Worst hit was the Vocational Education and Training sector which fell 18.5%, reflecting stricter government policy as a result of migrant linked fraud in this sector in 2008 and 2009.
A report by industry analyst group Deloitte Access Economics commissioned by Universities Australia last year found the downturn could cost the sector 57,000 jobs and strip $6.2bn off GDP by 2015.
The report blames the usual suspects for the slump – the rise of the Australian dollar and stricter visa policy.
It said the high publicity given to acts of violence against Indian students across the country in 2010 had tarnished Australia’s reputation as a safe destination, particularly for those seeking higher education. 14.6% of all international students in 2010 were Indian but this fell to 11.4% last year.
ACER recently warned that encroaching market competition from Australia’s neighbours could also affect any turnaround in the country’s near future.
“The sheer number of countries that are now offering higher education is pretty remarkable, in particular in the Asia Pacific area, which is our home turf for international students,” Edwards told Campus Review.
Marginson said the numbers showed the government was right to accept visa reforms in September after the Knight Review but that a turnaround would take time.