Cara Skikne

All universities should heed Australia’s diversification warning


Australia’s new Strategy for international Education sets the government’s strategy for the next ten years. According to the report “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that dependence on a small number of markets is not sustainable.” 

It has flagged the over-concentration of source countries as a risk to the Higher Education Sector. The government plans to launch a publicly available ‘diversification index’ to increase transparency in university cohort mixes. 

According to data from the report, 37% of international students in Australia come from China, while 21% are from India. Students from only five countries make up 72% of the international student population.  

The concentration of students from certain countries not only impacts the diversity of perspectives in the classroom. It lowers the resilience of universities to changes in global demand. 

The report points out: “A lack of diversity in international student cohorts exposes providers to financial risks if there are market disruptions or if one market declines suddenly.” 

The extent of this risk however is by no means limited to Australia. The Big Four destination countries for International Education – Australia, the UK, the US, and Canada all face similar issues – and a similar risk.  

Last week former UK universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone told a Times Higher Education event that Westminster “should think about requiring institutions to explore insurance policies if they’re not prepared to diversify their student bodies”. 

While insurance policies will not necessarily solve the problem, Johnson’s statement does highlight the seriousness of the financial risk universities face from geopolitical uncertainties. 

The overreliance on a few source countries points towards an opportunity, across countries, to create policy incentives that foster greater diversity within student bodies. 

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