International students boost jobs and business

Foreign students studying in Australia spent more than AU$35 billion (US$24 billion) last year on tourism, food, travel and housing. The huge expenditure by students also supported more than 240,000 local jobs and countless small and family businesses across the nation.

A release of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that the value of international education exports to the national economy rose from AU$30.8 billion in 2017 to AU$35.8 billion in 2018 – a 16% increase.

All the states and territories in Australia experienced an increase in spending by international students.


Almost 600,000 foreigners are studying in Australian universities, colleges and schools in 2019, a 12% rise on the previous year.

Some 360,000 of the students, 56% of the total, are enrolled in higher education courses, 25% in vocational education colleges and 19% in English language colleges and schools.

Education-related travel by the students and their relatives contributed AU$13.1 billion and AU$11.8 billion to the New South Wales and the Victorian economies respectively.

Student spending also injected AU$5 billion into the Queensland economy, AU$1.8 billion into South Australia, and AU$1.9 billion for Western Australia.

Heavy reliance on China

ABF media

The heavy reliance on China by Australian education institutions, however, is revealed in the figures.

Almost a third of overseas students are from China and 15% from India. Other Asian nations sending significant numbers include Nepal, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Although these top five countries provide 59% of all foreign enrolments, the remainder are drawn from almost 190 other nations, including Britain, Europe and North America.

According to OECD data, nearly five million students are now enrolled in university-level education outside their home country.

Australia, Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand and Austria have, in descending order, the highest percentages of international students as a proportion of the student body enrolled in their higher education institutions.


Asian students represent 53% of foreigners enrolled worldwide, with the largest numbers from China, India and South Korea.

Countries in the OECD receive more international students than they send abroad for tertiary education. Almost three times as many foreign students are enrolled in tertiary education in OECD countries as there are OECD citizens studying abroad.

Six-fold increase worldwide

Over the past 45 years, the number of students taking higher education courses outside their own country has risen dramatically, from 800,000 worldwide in the mid-1970s to an estimated five million in 2019, a more than six-fold increase.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said international alumni were also “a vast global network of informal ambassadors and advocates for Australia”.

“Not only does international education boost domestic travel, goods and services across our economy, but these students strengthen our links with our region and the world,” Jackson said.

“Australians understand the value of this contribution, both economically and to our long-lasting cultural and diplomatic ties.”

She said international student satisfaction was high, with nearly nine in 10 saying they were happy with the quality of education and the lifestyle we have to offer.

“International students can go anywhere in the world to study. They choose Australia because of our strong track record of a world-class education and a safe and welcoming environment,” Jackson said.


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