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Australia: ELICOS boon amid declining numbers

International student enrolments in Australia continued to fall for the fourth year in a row in every sector except English language teaching according to the latest end of year statistics of international student enrolment data from the Australian government (AEI).

The top five markets remained the same despite a 24.5% fall in Indian enrollments

Enrolments across the country were down 6.9% on 2011 to 515,853 with the highest volume sectors, higher education and vocational education & training, both seeing a decline in enrolments of 4.3% and 14.2% respectively.

The value of the sector to the economy has dropped to AUS$14.6 billion, from a high of AUS$17 billion in 2009.

After three years of decline in the ELICOS sector there is a mood of “cautious optimism”

The figures did not take industry players by surprise, however. “AEI’s data confirms the trend for 2012 and anticipated fall in enrolments and commencements,” Belinda Robinson, Chief Executive of Universities Australia, told The PIE News.

Modelling from the International Education Association of Australia last year predicted the value of education as an export would bottom out at AUS$14bn in 2013-14 before returning to health by 2020.

English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Stuents (ELICOS) was the only sector to record overall growth. Enrolments by students were up 0.2% and a 69% boost in actual commencements in December drove the figure for year-on-year commencements to increase 4.2%.

Sue Blundell executive director of English Australia said that after three years of decline in the sector there is a mood of “cautious optimism” looking ahead to 2013.  “With the second half of the year growing by 12%, this sends a clear signal that 2013 should bring the recovery that is needed,” she told The PIE News.

Student visa figures from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) for the December 2012 quarter offer a glimmer of hope for the industry. The wave of growth in ELICOS programmes which feed into universities was driven by a 26% increase in offshore higher education visas granted.

“Despite the continuing strong Australian dollar and  policy changes in some of our competitor countries, the streamlining of visa processing and the introduction of post-study work rights suggest a renewal of interest in studying in Australia,” said Robinson.

The wave of growth in ELICOS programmes was driven by a 26% increase in offshore higher education visas granted in December

However, visa figures offer no respite for the struggling VET sector which saw offshore visas granted fall by 16.5% representing an overall decline of 77% since the 2009 boom. “The decline in offshore visa applications is deeply worrying and shows no sign of reversing,” Claire Field CEO of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET) told The PIE News.

“ACPET is urging the Federal government to issue the final report of its Assessment Level Framework Review of student visas – and to enact measures to make Australia’s non-university providers an attractive destination for international students.”

The top five markets remained the same despite a 24.5% fall in enrollments to 53,396 from India, the second highest volume source country. China continued to top the list despite slumping by 6.2% to 149,758 students, Korea followed India with a 6.7% decline then Vietnam falling by 4.4% and Malaysia sending 5.2% fewer students.

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