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Australia: “Almost a decade to recover from downturn”

New modelling from the International Education Association of Australia predicts the downturn in Australia’s international education industry will get worse before it gets better, taking almost a decade to recover and threatening further jobs.

"Education exports would bottom out at AUS$14bn in 2013 before returning to health in 2020"

IEAA said that from its peak of AUS$18bn in 2009, the value of education as an export would bottom out at AUS$14bn in 2013-14 before returning to health by 2020. So far 27,000 jobs have been lost, but a further 700 are expected to go.

“7,300 of these jobs will have been lost in education institutions”

Outgoing president of IEAA, Stephen Connelly, said: “Across the Australian economy, across the providers of education as well as the suppliers of [related] goods and services, such as food, accommodation, transport and entertainment, a 22% downturn removes 27,700 jobs.

“7,300 of these jobs will have been lost in education institutions, including in college collapses.”

Education, once Australia’s third biggest export ahead of tourism, is now fourth in league tables after tough visa restrictions introduced in 2009 (now repealed). Attacks on Indian students in 2010 and the climbing Australian dollar depressed demand and wiped billions of dollars off the industry.

In the last year alone, education exports in the state of Victoria dropped from $5.9 billion to $4.8 billion and in New South Wales from $6.8 billion to $5.8 billion.

Connelly said after enrolments dipped to 485,000 in 2013, a slow but steady recovery would begin if all the recommendations in last year’s Knight review to reform the student visa system were implemented – the streamlined visa processing introduced in being March one example.

The upshot would be an upturn of 5% annually, and with annual tuition fees growing at a fraction above inflation, the value of education as an export would return to AUS$18bn by 2017. However, it will take until 2020 for enrolments to hit 600,000 – near their 2009 peak of 631,000.

“In other words, it will take us almost a decade to recover from the current downturn,” said Connelly.

Beginning in 2014, IEAA projects an upturn of 5% annually

Interestingly, IEAA predicts the industry will take a different shape by 2020, with higher education students making up 49% of all international enrolments from 36% in 2009. “Other sectors increasingly will become conduits to higher education,” said Connelly.

IEAA presented the new modelling at the 2012 Australian International Education Conference in Melbourne this week along with results from a new survey showing that one in eight Australian undergraduates study abroad, with the US the most popular destination, followed by China and the UK.

The latest inbound enrolment figures show overseas undergraduates starting new courses fell by 13% compared to this time last year, with demand from China noticeably down. Enrolments and commencements in the VET sector were down 14% and 11% respectively, but English language colleges maintained their number commencements, around 49,350.

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