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Chinese enrolments down but Australia works to reverse the tide

2009—only three years ago—marked the peak of Australia’s heydey as a study abroad destination country; at that time, 491,565 international students were enrolled in courses in Australia. Since then, enrolments have fallen off dramatically and Canada is increasingly contending with Australia as the third-most popular study destination for an increasing number of countries. New numbers show the bleeding has yet to be staunched: enrolment numbers from China, Australia’s biggest market, have fallen for a second year by roughly 15 percent.

As big a challenge as this poses, the Australian education sector is both bracing for it and taking steps to recover. Chris Madden, Griffith University pro-vice-chancellor international told the newspaper The Australian that “most institutions have budgeted for a significant downturn.” Experts agree that it will take years for enrolments to bounce back, but important measures are already in process.

For one, the changes suggested by Michael Knight in what is referred to as the Knight Report (2011) are beginning to be implemented. These include streamlining student visa and admission requirements, and improving post-study work rights for international students.

At the same time, the government has published an International Students Strategy for Australia that aims to improve the wellbeing and protection of international students. The recently released Nuffic report, International student recruitment: policies and developments in selected countries, details some of the measures being introduced:

“… a student safety guide has been published, higher education providers are required to implement a student safety plan … a strategy is being developed to engage international students with local communities … international students will receive better information on study options … and international students have been given improved access to complaints and appeals procedures.”

The positive effects of easing student visa requirements, making it easier to work post-study, and improving the experience and safety of international students will likely take time to be felt but are important long-term strategies for the recovery of the Australian international education sector.

If the Australian education sector faces challenges, the country’s tourism sector received some positive news this week: applications for working holidays in Australia are up by a significant 14.1%. The Working Holiday Maker Visa Program Report notes that much of this growth stems from outside traditional sources, countries like Hong Kong, Italy, Taiwan, Ireland, and Japan.

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