The latest estimate sees export credits jump 22.6% from 2016, the largest single percentage increase since 2008, in which growth jumped an at the time unprecedented 21.4%.
“International students are drawn to Australia because they know they’ll get a world-class education, global alumni networks, a great student experience and lifelong friendships with our country,” Universities Australia acting chief executive Catriona Jackson said in a statement.
“We’ve seen this movie before… a bubble that burst a loss of some billions of dollars”
“Over the past decade, Australia’s world-class universities have added chapter after chapter to our international education success story. It’s in the interests of all Australians that this continues.”
Made up of $31.6bn in direct revenue through international students’ tuition fees and living expenses and $600m in third-party services, the 2017 value is also almost more than double that of 2012. That year a perfect storm of restrictive visa changes, a expensive Australian dollar, and student safety concerns strangled the flow of students.
While the figure is welcomed by a market that is trepidatious – student numbers also surpassed record levels in 2017 but with limited diversity in sector or source country – much of the growth can be attributed to the ABS’ changed methodology which now uses the more detailed International Visitor Survey to understand direct student spending.
The ongoing double-digit growth in both economic value and students numbers is also being seen as a cause for concern.
“There are some signs of a bubble,” Australian MP Julian Hill said in parliament in February.
“In any sector, you do have to worry when you see – year upon year – growth of 10%, 10%, 12% and now 16% in the last 12 months. We’ve seen this movie before, back in 2007, 2008, 2009, when we saw a completely unsustainable growth in the sector, a bubble that burst a loss of some billions of dollars.”
“Many of us expect a slowdown in 2018”
Nicole Brigg, deputy vice-chancellor international of Macquarie University, however, said that while the sector overview revealed worrying levels of growth, delving deeper revealed most consistency.
“It’s important to note that most of the growth is concentrated in the top four Group of Eight universities,” she told The PIE.
“Outside of that group I would say the growth is actually at lower, more sustainable levels.”
Brigg also said that it was expected 2018 growth would slow down to more reasonable levels, due to updated work rights and ongoing political disagreements.
“Many of us expect a slowdown in 2018, caused by the tighter management of the skilled migration program by the Commonwealth Government – as it makes its assessment around labour market needs, and possibly the coolness in the Australia-China relationship, which we would expect to improve as the many strong supporters of the Australia-China relationship stand up to be counted,” she said.
Australia hosted 624,001 international students in 2017, its highest ever number and a 12.7% increase from 2016.