How important are international students to Australia’s universities?
“The prosecution respectfully presents as evidence recent shenanigans purporting to be informed policy debate about university funding, with a starting point of 20% reduction in government contributions”
Stephen Connelly, director of GlobalEd Services, a consulting firm specialising in international education and internationalisation, challenges the claim that Australian universities are too dependent upon the revenue international students bring.
Discussion about the significance of international students for Australian universities often centres around their revenue contribution, and the risk associated with maintaining or growing enrolment levels in a system with a greater proportion of international students than almost any other in the world. This ignores the importance of international students in classrooms and on campuses around Australia, bringing different perspectives and helping local students develop a global mindset, including for about 15% of local students participation in overseas mobility programs.
Acknowledging the need for a more comprehensive appreciation of Australian universities’ internationalisation programs, this article continues the focus on enrolment and revenue, to clarify the extent of the reliance or otherwise of Australian universities on international students.
Each year, Australian universities report enrolment and revenue data to the Department of Education and Training. This data set is a rich source of information about enrolment, revenue, academic success and attrition rates. Of specific interest are proportions of students who are international, proportion of revenue sourced from international students, and academic success of students. 2014 enrolment data are now available, with finance data released around November each year.
In 2014, 24.3% of students in Australian universities were international.
Proportions of University Students who are International – all Modes
Proportions here include students studying outside Australia, either online, at branch campuses or in offshore partnership programs.
In 2014, 18.7% of university students studying onshore in Australia were international. Recently, growth in international students has not kept pace with growth in domestic students.
Proportions of University Students who are International – Onshore
Open Doors and OECD data show that Australia’s proportion of international students compares with 17% in the UK, 16% in Canada, and 4.2% in the US.
In 2013, 16.3% of total revenue at Australia’s universities came from international student tuition fees.
Proportion of revenue from international students
Does 16.3% represent unhealthy over-reliance? I don’t think so. There is risk involved in managing any revenue source. Far worse to be over-reliant on government revenue. The prosecution respectfully presents as evidence recent shenanigans in Australia purporting to be informed policy debate about university funding, with a starting point of 20% reduction in government contributions. Give me business risk any day.
“Does 16.3% represent unhealthy over-reliance? I don’t think so. There is risk involved in managing any revenue source”
Finally, international students commencing bachelor degrees in Australian universities in 2014 passed 85.2% of what they attempted in first year, higher than domestic students (83.4%), the third year in a row that international students have bettered their domestic peers. Australian universities pay attention to the academic success of international students.
 Australia in 2012 had the second highest proportion of international students among its undergraduate population of any OECD economy, behind Luxembourg.