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Australia – fears of drops in foreign student numbers

Figures recently released by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) of the Australian Government show a worrying decrease in the number of student visa applications in Australia. The quarterly DIAC report gives an account of the number of (student visa) applications received, as well as of the number of granted visas (i.e. of successful applications) in the period July 2010 – June 2011. Across the eight types of student visas (which include school education and VET) the number of applications by offshore (international) students decreased by 19.9% compared to last year, from 176 717 to 141 622. As far as the origin of applicants is concerned, the highest decreases are recorded in the number of Indian (-62.9%), Vietnamese (-31.0%) and Chinese (-24.3%) students. Only 126 186 visas have so far been granted to offshore applicants during the academic year 2010/11, compared to 158 646 in the previous year. Nevertheless, the highest annual decrease was recorded in 2009/10 when both the number of applications and that of granted visas decreased by about a third, compared to 2008/09.

For higher education alone (i.e. not counting VET) the decrease seems slightly less alarming, at just 16.7%. For this group, 60 395 student visa applications (by offshore students) were received between July 2010 and June 2011. Of these, 55 922 students were granted a study visa in Australia in the same interval.

The big question is of course: Do these figures signal a potential loss of popularity for Australia in the eyes of internationally-mobile students? Interestingly, the Australian authorities do not seem extremely alarmed by the decrease. They explain that this is most likely the natural consequence of tighter visa regulations in recent years, which primarily aimed to reduce the number of ‘bogus students’ – i.e. low-skilled foreigners that entered Australian educational programmes (particularly at the VET level) as a path to immigration. Other quoted motives are the incidences of violence of last year in Australia, directed mostly at Indian students (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2010), and the rising exchange rate of the Australian dollar, which makes study in Australia more expensive than in the past.

The extent to which the decrease in student visa applications will impact on the actual number of international students in Australia in the new academic year remains to be seen. The Monthly Summary of International Student Enrolment released by Australian Education International for the month of July 2011 shows a slight increase in international enrolment in higher education (+1.4%) compared to the same month last year, but a decrease across all fields of education (-9.4%). However, data across a number of months would be necessary in order to identify the underlying trend.

In parallel, and possibly as a means to counteract negative developments, new initiatives to foster educational links with India were recently announced by the Australian minister for tertiary education, Senator Chris Evans.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) AEI Indiainfoline