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Australia: international education exports hit record $19.65bn

Revenue from international students in Australian education institutions grew by more than A$2bn in 2015, making international education Australia’s third largest export, contributing $19.65bn to the country, preliminary figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics have shown.

Minister Colbeck said the figures "confirm the growing importance of international education" in Australia's economy. Photo: Steve Keough.

“Australia still needs to do far more to facilitate migration outcomes for highly skilled graduates”

The newly released figures confirm that international education has grown to overtake natural gas as the country’s third largest export, following coal and iron ore.

“These figures confirm the growing importance of international education in Australia’s twenty-first century knowledge economy”

The 11.5% growth in spending by international students, which includes tuition fees, accommodation and living expenses, was spurred on by a 13% rise in education-related travel in 2015 compared to the previous year.

“These latest figures confirm the growing importance of international education in the context of Australia’s twenty-first century knowledge economy,” commented Richard Colbeck, Australia’s Minister for Tourism and International Education.

“International education makes an exceptional contribution to Australian society, culture, international standing, and economic prosperity and it provides opportunities for people to experience different countries, languages and cultures,” he added.

There were more than 650,000 international enrolments in Australia in 2015, separate figures from the Department of Education and Training show, up from nearly 590,000 in 2014.

The year-on-year revenue growth is nevertheless slower than in 2014, when export earnings rose by 14%.

Phil Honeywood, executive director of the International Education Association of Australia, said the sector must not now become complacent in assuming that these levels of growth will continue, given increasing competition from other destination countries.

He added that the figures present an opportunity for the sector to show government that international education is worth investing in.

“Australia has sometimes been too quick in the past to make a great deal out of such figures”

“If such figures serve to remind the Australian political and wider community that international education is increasingly important, then hopefully it will lead to better resourcing of student service delivery,” he told The PIE News.

“There is still much policy implementation required in the provision of employability opportunities, quality and affordable student accommodation and a stronger education agent quality assurance system,” he continued.

“In all of this, Australia still needs to do far more to facilitate migration outcomes for highly skilled graduates.”

Though the growth is positive for Australia, Honeywood cautioned that the sector should not use export earnings as the only metric for success, saying that the new figure “has both good and bad connotations”.

“No international student wants to be viewed as a commodity and Australia has sometimes been too quick in the past to make a great deal out of such figures,” he said.

Colbeck also reiterated the government’s commitment to support the sector as he leads development of a national strategy for international education announced last year.

“As Australia transitions from a resources based economy, to one supported by the services industries, the government will be working hard to ensure our existing successful and competitive services exports are well supported for future growth,” he said.

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