Australia's international student numbers surge ahead

When students around the world think about leaving home and heading overseas to study, there are three countries that top their educational shopping list: the US, England and Australia. We are now the third most important country in terms of the number of international students we host.  And it’s only our relative size that puts us in third place.  We have the highest number of international students on a per capita basis.

This is in great part due to the excellent reputation of our universities.  But there are other factors at play.

Australia benefits from being close to Asia, and much of our country is in the same or similar time zones to many parts of China, Japan and Korea. What we see is very large concentrations of these  groups coming here to obtain degrees because it is very easy to move in and out of the country and to maintain contact with families back home.

Interestingly, the second biggest student ethnic group, after the Chinese, is Indian.  This is in part a legacy of the relationship established under the historic Colombo Plan, and also our shared Commonwealth experience. It seems as though these long-term ties around English culture, sport and language strongly influence Indian educational choices.

This huge wave of international students is not slowing.  In fact, it’s speeding up.  We are seeing the annual growth rate compounding at about three to four percent.  In response to this increasing demand, the universities need to build new teaching facilities and more student housing.  And they need to hire more educators.

This is not just a numbers game, where more of everything is required.  The universities are also looking to enhance the quality of their offering.  The University of Melbourne, currently ranked as number one in Australia and number 33 on a global basis, wants to get into the world’s top 20.  In order to do that, it has a significant construction program planned.

International eductation

International education is an enormous driver of economic growth, but it is also driving a much smarter country.  Many of these students make a strong contribution in the professional, scientific, and software services, as well as a broader range of services.  Many of them stay, bringing capital from home countries and creating stronger trade and business ties for Australia.

Sometimes, it’s the subtlety of the international and global ties that is more important, at the end of the day, than the simple dollar value of selling our education to overseas students.

International students have driven the renaissance of Melbourne’s CBD with around 10,000 students living in inner areas.  For many students, parents purchase apartments or units in student housing complexes.  Melbourne’s CBD is becoming even more vibrant and cosmopolitan.

I believe that one of the impacts of our education policies is the growth of small to medium enterprises which are the fastest growing business types in Australia.  In fact, per capita, Australia has twice the number of start-ups as the US and the UK.  So we are a vibrant young global country and we are moving very quickly to becoming internationally recognised, not only for our education, but for our innovation as well.

The export drive has given our universities more money to invest in facilities and better staff which is also providing access to better education for domestic students.  From a city-building point of view, we are seeing the development of education precincts, such as Sydney University and UTS close by, and Melbourne University, RMIT and Victoria University sharing a CBD neighbourhood.  Educational hubs are being established which include retail, entertainment, banking, and visa and migration services - again driving very strong jobs growth in the domestic economy.

About the author: 

Brian Haratsis is MacroPlan’s Founder and Executive Chairman. Brian is an economist and future strategist with over 30 years experience as an advisor to governments and major corporate clients throughout Australia and New Zealand. For more information or to discuss your property research requirements, please contact National Marketing Manager, Amy Williams on 02 9221 5211 or