Applications from international students were 40% higher than in 2019 at the University of Wollongong and 27% higher at the University of Queensland, according to Australian press.
Much of the demand is from Indian students, as applications from this cohort increased by over 150% at the University of Queensland.
Chinese applications are less stable. Macquarie University experienced a 27% decline in demand, while other institutions are seeing more interest. UNSW in Sydney and the University of Queensland reported 25% and 40% increases in application rates from China, respectively.
Speaking on ABC radio, Alex Frino, senior deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Wollongong, said that the institution decided to focus its recruitment efforts in China, India and Vietnam shortly before borders reopened.
“The subcontinent component really took off,” Frino said. “So India is our number one source country and Pakistan is our number two. Nepal is our number three. So the subcontinent’s really responding and responding quickly, at record levels.”
While Frino said the University of Wollongong has been “inundated” with applications, he described demand across the sector as “patchy” but “reasonably strong”. The picture is also “mixed” for independent providers, according to Troy Williams, CEO of ITECA, with members concerned about high student visa application rejection rates.
“The student visa application rejection rate is more profound in the international skills training sector, with some members now questioning whether their institution will be viable over the medium term,” Williams said.
“Only today, one ITECA member suggested that the Department of Home Affairs, with its excessive student visa application refusal rate, seems to be contemptuous of the international skills training sector. This is not an isolated view across ITECA’s membership.”
Frino blamed the “poor response” from China on geopolitical tensions and China’s border closure.
“We really don’t know which of those two reasons account for the huge drop in applications from Chinese students and we’ll soon find out now that the borders have opened. As the next few weeks unfold, applications and application numbers from China will tell us whether it was the geopolitical situation or the closure of borders that was holding back applications.”
Many countries, including Australia, have introduced testing requirements for Chinese nationals, but Frino didn’t believe this would be detrimental to the return of international students.
“We can and must do more to entice the best and brightest to our shores”
There are also concerns that the country is not prepared for the influx of new arrivals – researchers have warned there is not enough affordable accommodation after they found that 70% of students surveyed were going without food so they could pay rent.
It comes as the Australian government releases a new report showing that international students drove a recovery in migration figures in 2022 after the country experienced a net outflow of 85,000 migrants due to Covid-19 in 2020/21. Despite this, recovery is not expected to fully offset the loss and the country is expected to remain “smaller and older than would otherwise have been the case”.
Catriona Jackson, CEO at Universities Australia, said the population statement “confirms international students play a vitally important role in our migration mix”.