ApplyInsights: How Australia’s International Ed Sector Will Recover

Australia’s international education sector demonstrated incredible resiliency and a willingness to come together to support international students during a difficult 2021. Now, the sector is turning towards recovery. Despite ongoing pandemic concerns, Australian institutions are preparing for an enrollment boom in 2022 and a return to year-over-year growth.

To drive these efforts, industry roundtables created an 18-month recovery roadmap to help the entire sector recover quickly in 2022. And the Australian government has also released their plan to help Australia’s international education sector regain market share and thrive over the next decade.

In today’s ApplyInsights, we’re breaking down Australia’s recently released new direction for international education for the next 10 years: the Strategy for International Education (ASIE) 2021–2030. We’ve pulled out key messages and highlights to help summarize this important strategy document for recruitment teams looking to help bring students back to Australia. We’ve also provided our thoughts on how and why the Australian international education sector might recover faster than expected in 2022 and 2023.

Key Insights at a Glance

  • Australia’s Strategy for International Education (ASIE) 2021–2030 sets a new roadmap for the sector’s recovery in 2022 and beyond.
  • Increasing student source country diversity and encouraging international students to take courses in high-demand fields are core pillars of ASIE 2021–2030.
  • The Australian international education sector could recover quicker than expected post-pandemic, similar to rapid sector recovery in Canada and the US.

Australian Strategy for International Education 2021–2030

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Australia’s international education sector on the overall Australian economy. The sector contributed over $40B to Australia’s economy in 2019, more than double what it contributed in 2015. In fact, international education was Australia’s largest services export and fourth-largest export sector overall in 2019.

But the benefits of international education go well beyond economic growth. The sector provides a residency pathway for students, it encourages meaningful cross-cultural exchanges, and it drives new research in a wide variety of fields. That’s why the new government strategy, developed with key industry stakeholders throughout 2021, focuses on supporting the industry in innovative and bold ways.
AU Recovery Callout #1 from ASIE 2021–2030
Over the course of the pandemic, the Australian government took action to support international students. They granted student visas to students overseas, waived visa application fees for students renewing their visa because they had to lengthen their studies, and elected to allow online studies to count towards post-study work visas. However, to help Australia’s international education sector grow and thrive over the next decade, the Australian government has decided to focus on four key pillars:

  1. Diversification
  2. Alignment with Australia’s workforce and skills needs
  3. Students at the centre
  4. Growth and competitiveness

Let’s dive into each of these pillars in greater detail.

Diversification

Increasing campus diversity is a key goal for governments and institutions across destination markets. Recruiting students from a variety of source countries helps insulate institutions against risks associated with foreign government policy changes and shifting population trends. And it also helps improve the student experience, exposing domestic and international students to new cultures and ideas.

Diversification is an even greater concern for Australian institutions than those in Canada, the US, or the UK. In 2010, 60% of international students at Australian universities came from just five source markets. But in 2020, students from the top five source markets accounted for 72% of Australia’s international university students.
Market Share of International University Students from Top 5 Source Markets in 2020
To increase diversification, the Australian government plans to help institutions launch or expand hybrid, online-only, micro-credential, and transnational education (TNE) programs. These types of programs are often more flexible and affordable than traditional, in-country education. And these offerings can help students learn in the way that suits them, while helping partner countries meet their own skills and education needs.

Australia’s recent Study with Australia campaign drove 836,000 enrollments in affordable, online courses through Australian providers, demonstrating the potential for non-traditional course offerings.

Australia’s Workforce and Skills Needs

Australia is a popular destination for students looking to enroll in business and commerce programs.1 Such programs accounted for nearly half of all international enrollments at Australian universities in 2020. But the share of international students in Australia studying in STEM2 and health fields was significantly lower than the average among OECD countries.3
AU Recovery quote about access to in-demand skills from ASIE 2021–2030
For Australia to remain competitive on the international stage, both economically and in the international education sector, these gaps need to be addressed. International graduates are perfectly positioned to fill skill gaps and boost the Australian workforce.

To attract international students to Australia for STEM and health programs, the government plans to develop targeted career initiatives. Some programs are already in full force, such as the Skilled Migration Program, an immigration stream that allows graduates to apply for residential and employment pathways. But the Australian government also plans to allow more speciality courses to be delivered offshore, and to license more overseas partners to deliver International Skills Training (IST) courses.

Students at the Centre

Over the last 50 years, more than 3 million international students studied in Australia. And according to post-graduation surveys, many of these students enjoyed their study abroad experience. But COVID-19 has led to some international students feeling isolated or in need of greater support.
AI Recovery callout quote about the international student experience from ASIE 2021–2030
To ensure that international students remain supported throughout their studies, the Australian government has committed to working with tertiary institutions to expand mental health services. Specifically, the government will work with institutions to provide services that meet language and cultural diversity needs. Additionally, the government aims to work with the sector to create better links between institution campuses and local communities to increase social cohesion and cultural sharing.

Growth and Competitiveness

Competition in the international education sector has increased dramatically over the past decade. To remain competitive, governments and institutions need to consider their long-term plan while enacting short-term measures to attract international students.

For Australia, this long-term plan will include a targeted review of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act. This regulatory framework has a direct impact on the implementation of ASIE 2021–2030. As a result, the government wants to ensure the act can continue to support innovation, high-quality online and offshore learning, and positive student experiences in the years to come.

Critically, as part of this new strategy, the Australian government will ensure Australia’s migration policies remain flexible post-pandemic. Australia’s migration strategy includes key residency pathway policies such as graduate work permits. The Australian government already announced several measures towards this goal, including:

  • Permanently increasing temporary graduate visas from two years to three years for students who complete a coursework-based master’s program
  • Provisionally increasing temporary graduate visas from 18 months to 24 months for VET graduates
  • Temporarily expanding opportunities for VET graduates to apply for temporary graduate visas by eliminating qualification assessment and occupation nomination requirements for the 2022–23 year
  • Allowing temporary graduate visa holders to reapply for a replacement visa if they lost time due to pandemic travel restrictions
  • Extending measures to recognize time spent studying offshore and online towards qualifying for temporary graduate visas

As the runaway success of Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) has shown, work permits are a strong driver of international student interest and they can provide a strong pipeline for new students and new skilled employees.

Other Targeted Measures

As part of the release of ASIE 2021–2030, the Australian government also announced some focused spending to support the international education sector. This includes:

  • A$8 million to support the development of up to 70 globally relevant micro-credentials for international and onshore implementation.
  • A$9 million in targeted, short-term support for private ELICOS4 providers to diversify their offerings into online and offshore delivery.

Australia Could Recover Quicker Than Expected

The good news for Australia’s international education sector, and students looking to study in Australia, is that students are travelling to Australia once again. As of December 15, 2021, fully vaccinated international students with valid student visas are permitted to enter Australia. The rate at which students can return, as well as details of necessary quarantines, was left up to each state and regional government.

Though Australia’s international education sector has started the recovery process, many remain concerned about how long it will take Australia’s international education sector to fully recover. While Australia’s borders opened more slowly than those of other destination markets, we can look to Canada’s rapid recovery as an indication that Australia may be able to recover quicker than expected. With pent-up demand from from tradition source markets—including India, Nepal, and China—we expect to see a boom of enrollment for Australian institutions in 2022 and 2023.

Here at ApplyBoard, we’re excited for Australian international education in 2022. The Australian government’s plan and the industry roundtable roadmap show a commitment to recovery and growth throughout the sector. By strengthening post-graduation work permit programs, increasing program offerings, and targeting emerging markets, we’re optimistic that 2022 will be a great year for Australian institutions.

Published: January 11, 2022

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CMO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government and third-party data, alongside ApplyBoard internal data, to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education industry. They also work with industry experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 300,000 students around the world.

FOOTNOTES:

1. We covered the rising popularity of business and commerce programs among International students at Canadian institutions in a previous article.

2. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

3. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

4. English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students.