Meanwhile, the government has made several moves to boost the industry and alleviate ongoing political tensions with China.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, fee revenue from international students reached AUD$31.9bn in the 2017/18 financial year, an increase of $3.8bn, while the Department of Home Affairs reported the number of new study visas granted increased 10.3% to reach 378,292.
“The UK still maintains a very strong bias against students studying there from India”
“International education is a modern Australian success story – built from the ground up over six decades to become the nation’s third-largest export and the envy of the world,” said Universities Australia deputy chief executive Anne-Marie Lansdown.
“Australians should be fiercely proud of this incredibly important industry. They should also be fiercely protective of it.”
The latest figures show Australia remains a popular study destination despite ongoing reports that perceptions of the country are beginning to sour and see the start of a potential readjustment in student nationalities.
While China remained the most popular source market, India cemented its position as second. The country surged 43.4% or 14,980 visas – more than double that of China, which grew 7,310 – primarily within the higher education sector.
“One practical thing the federal government can do is de-risk with some upfront investment”
IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood said part of the reason for the increase was likely due to other countries becoming less inviting to students from the sub-continent.
“While markets such as the UK continue to open up to Chinese students, the UK under Theresa May still maintains a very strong bias against students studying there from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka,” he said, adding that other countries, including New Zealand, had placed restrictions on Indians as well.
India’s surge comes as welcome news for the government after Austrade released its India Economic Strategy 2035 in mid-July which put at its focus tertiary education, both in attracting students and building up offshore operations of Australian providers.
Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the strategy was welcomed but hoped the government would provide significant investment.
“The main reason why there are very few operations in India at the moment is the high-risk investment, and one practical thing the federal government can do is de-risk that with some upfront investment,” he told The PIE News.
“Rapid change can be unsettling. But it is a big mistake to assume it will inevitably lead to conflict”
International education is also becoming a political talking point in Australia after a federal opposition MP indicated a possible cap to student numbers to combat workplace exploitation helped push discussions on sustainable migration.
In response, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull delivered an address at the University of New South Wales which alleviated sector concerns.
“Given the timing of the speech, it helped inoculate the sector [with concerns] from the subsequent two weeks of bad media around… calls for migration cuts and other anti-multicultural rhetoric,” Honeywood said.
In a multi-targeted speech, Turnbull also sought to ease tensions with China, walking back on some of the tougher rhetoric used during his 2017 IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.
“Rapid change can be unsettling. But it is a big mistake to assume it will inevitably lead to conflict,” he said.
“Will a stronger, richer China have a more confident and assertive voice in world affairs? Of course it will.
“Will it seek to persuade other countries that its point of view is correct? Will it try to get the best deal it can in trade? Of course it will, like everybody else does.”
Whether international education remains a talking point, however, is now less clear, as other politics begin to get in the way.
A recent leadership spill within the federal coalition government has seen Turnbull retain his prime ministership, while failed challenger Peter Dutton has opted not to resume his position as Home Affairs minister. It is unclear if the change in minister overseeing DHA will impact visas for students.
Consulting fees and royalties’ revenue is not yet available but is expected to push total education revenue past $32bn.