According to Austrade’s 2022 Year in Review report, the 619,371 student total was 137,342 fewer than in 2019, equivalent to an 18% drop.
New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows promising news on student arrivals, but concerns remain on capacity, especially around accommodation.
While total enrolments increased by 4% on 2021 figures, they remained down by 22%, equivalent to some 205,978 students, on 2019. However, an increase of 39% on commencements is indicative of the gradual rebound from the pandemic.
In late 2022, the Australian government announced an inquiry into the sector’s rebound, while some stakeholders have suggested that higher education could fully recover by late 2023.
The year in review report said that the pace of recovery to pre-pandemic levels will “be determined by how quickly the pool of new and continuing students rebound to outstrip those completing studies in the period ahead”.
In 2022, the 201,145 new students beginning their studies in Australia was three times higher than in 2021. But the 2020 and 2021 new student numbers, together with falls in continuing students, meant only 418,226 continued in 2022.
Overall commencements in 2022 were down 23.0% on pre-pandemic figures in 2019, while overall enrolment numbers were down by 21.6%.
At higher education level, enrolments in 2022 (which made up 48% of the total enrolment) were down by 18% on 2019. VET, which the report noted “held up better than enrolments for other international education sectors” during the pandemic, hit 273,808 enrolments, down from 281,381 in 2019.
Enrolments and commencements in ELICOS remain significantly down from the 156,478 and 117,293 highs in 2019, but the report noted a “sharp turnaround” in 2022.
“We are steadily working back to the position of strength we held prior to the pandemic”
“The 79,362 enrolments were up 90 per cent and the 73,429 commencements up 155 per cent compared to 2021. However, ELICOS enrolments were still only 51 per cent and commencements 63 per cent of their numbers in 2019 (pre pandemic),” the report said.
The continued recovery and renewal of ELICOS enrolments are “critical to the overall sustainability of international education”, Austrade added, due to the “pivotal role” they play in providing a pathway to further study.
Times Higher Education reported that nine of Australia’s 10 public universities have seen their international student numbers increase, while domestic enrolments have fallen.
Overseas student revenue grew in 2022 at four of the 10 institutions, the news organisation noted, with Griffith and James Cook universities seeing international student earnings rise by 4% and 18%, respectively.
The Australian has also noted that Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that 256,170 people arrived in the country on student visas from January to March this year, up from 105,520 in the same period last year.
The almost 143,000 students that arrived in February is some 93,270 more than in the same month last year, while provisional estimates indicate a further 54,350 students entered Australia in March.
“This is good news for our universities and the nation,” Universities Australia acting chief executive Peter Chesworth said.
“The return of international students boosts campus life and generates significant economic activity, benefitting not only universities but local businesses and communities.
“We are steadily working back to the position of strength we held prior to the pandemic. The sooner we get there the better – for the benefit of our universities and all Australians.”
Universities Australia, earlier this week, suggested that Australia’s migration system needs to change in order to retain international students.
Education exports rose in 2022 to AUS$25.5bn, but is still down from the $40bn high in 2019, the Austrade report highlighted.
“Going forward, we should still be the beneficiary of challenges faced by competitor markets, but we have our own challenges to contend with such as accessible accommodation and education agent bad behaviour,” International Education Association of Australia CEO Phil Honeywood told The Australian.
AFR has warned that purpose-built student accommodation is at 100% capacity, with stakeholders telling the paper that China demanding its students to return to overseas study destinations earlier this year has exacerbated the situation.
While students from wealthier families are having parents buy them apartments, Honeywood said that international students are “sharing bedrooms, moving to the outer suburbs or living with the extended diasporas such [as] extended family and friends”.
Allianz Care Australia has revealed a new direct billing mental health network for Overseas Student Health Cover policyholders in response to a “surge in demand” for mental health services.
“Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are at a greater risk of experiencing mental health issues, and are often affected by a variety of stressors while studying abroad – living in another country, losing support networks, financial difficulties, and finding housing and accommodation,” said executive head of Health, Miranda Fennell.
“Australia saw a significant increase in arrivals from all major student source countries during 2022”
Austrade noted that its 2022 International Student Sentiment Survey of over 5,000 prospective and current student found that satisfaction levels for student support services remain high, the year in review report added.
“With Covid travel restrictions lifted, Australia saw a significant increase in arrivals from all major student source countries during 2022, with the outlook positive for 2023 and beyond,” Austrade said.
“Across a range of sources, Australia is still behind the US, Canada, and the UK on overall share of global demand, but with notable variations across dominant source countries and with an upward trajectory on lead indicators.”