Cara Skikne

The impact of the loss of international students is widely spread


This article was written by Julian Longbottom, Region Manager for APAC at Studyportals and originally published in The Australian.

Much more than A$40 billion at stake

The impact of closed borders on international students is often framed as a A$40 billion problem for universities. Yet, the impact on ordinary Australians is likely to be felt for years to come.

Mike Ferguson, Chair of the Australian Universities International Directors Forum, says the A$40 billion figure does not clearly highlight the economic loss to the broader economy.

‘International students bring immense benefits to our country both economically and socially. And these benefits extend far beyond the education sector. In my view there would not be a business in Australia that does not directly or indirectly benefit from having international students in the country.’

According to Ferguson, the loss of market share to countries like the UK, US and Canada will take up to five years to correct. Studyportals’ global data, reflecting the searches of over 45 million students in 2020, shows the steep decline in student interest in Australia. This student interest data is a good predictor of enrolments up to 24 months in advance.

Search volume for on campus courses in Australia as at year-to-date July 2021, is down 14% compared to global growth of 10%. The decline has continued unabated since mid-2020 due to continued border closures, no time frame for reopening, continual lockdowns across major states and cities with little government support provided for international students onshore.

The market is already down 25% since 2019 so a further 10% to 20% fall will no doubt add further stress. In the face of this steep downswing in international student interest it’s important that the sector communicates the cultural benefits to Australians: sharing knowledge and experiences among different nationalities, gaining familiarity with other languages and maintaining the strong global reputation our universities hold through having a diverse cohort of international students. These are all valuable characteristics that can help domestic and international students feel comfortable in a range of contexts as they travel and do business around the world throughout their lives.

The soft power and influence Australia has had in the APAC region since the first Colombo plan in the 1950’s is at stake – along with jobs, research output and global competitiveness.

Australian citizens need to be made acutely aware of these social and economic benefits that flow from the international education sector. This is becoming a national problem that requires a national solution and voters need to be a part of the discussion. This is everyone’s responsibility.  Australians need to maintain the current vaccination pace so we can move through the Federal Government’s reopening plan and reengage with the world.

Negative impact on domestic students

The loss of international perspectives in the classroom also has a negative impact on local students says Mychel Palamountain, Deputy Director of Compliance, Insights and Relations at the University of Technology Sydney ‘Having cultural diversity in the classroom provides opportunities for vigorous debate and exchange from a range of cultural perspectives and experiences. It fosters intercultural understanding and different perspectives that provide different ways of resolving issues or looking at problems. At UTS we focus on resolving real-world global issues. International students in the classroom bring a wealth of experiences to draw upon, help students to think differently and develop a more global mind-set.”

Local students are set to lose out on the networking, business, and future diplomacy benefits of having top talent from around the world in class.

Groundswell support for international students

Palamountain stresses that there has been groundswell support for international students. ‘Australia has supported international students in a myriad of ways. Many universities, community groups, charities and local businesses have provided support ranging from access to emergency food and accommodation to cash handouts and interest-free loans.’

‘I think it’s important that international students know they are welcome in Australia. Australian students and the teams at our institutions are looking forward to the day we can welcome them back with open arms.’

For Australia to stay top of mind for international students, it’s up to all of us to let them know they are missed, we are doing all we can to get vaccinated and reopen the borders, and that we look forward to having them back as soon as possible.



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