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Australia off to a fast start in 2017

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The number of student visas granted for study in Australia increased sharply in the first three months of 2017, rising nearly 22% compared to the same period in 2016
  • This growth is widely distributed among Australia’s top 20 sending markets, and heavily concentrated in higher education and, to a lesser extent, ELICOS, VET, and non-award studies

The latest visa data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection indicates that Australian recruiters are off to a very fast start for 2017. For the first three months of the year, total student visa applications increased by 18.5% compared to the same period in 2016. The total number of student visas granted for January through March 2017, meanwhile, increased by nearly 22% compared to the first three months of 2016.

This equates to just under 18,000 more student visas granted in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter the year before. A closer look at the numbers reveals that two of Australia’s top five markets – China and India – are driving much of that growth. Student visa grants to Chinese students increased by 22% this year (with just under 4,000 more visas granted), and grants to Indian students were up by 25% (just over 2,200 more visas in January-March this year).

In contrast, the other three top five countries for 2016 – South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam –  all saw student visa grants decline by between 6% and 13% for the first quarter of this year. Those declines meant that the top five markets accounted for 30% of the overall growth for the quarter, with the balance largely contributed by other top 20 sending markets.

The big gainers outside of the top five were Brazil (56% growth, 2,018 additional visas granted compared to the first quarter of 2016), Nepal (112% increase, 3,565 more visas), Colombia (+53%, +1,131 visas), US (+51%, +969 visas), and Sri Lanka (+57%, +701 visas). All told, those additional top 20 source markets accounted for nearly 9,000 of the additional student visas granted in the first three months of this year, or about half of the total increase for those early months of 2017.

By level of study, visa grants for higher education students represented about half of the increase for 2017, with the balance roughly equally distributed across the ELICOS, vocational education and training, and non-award sectors. The US was a heavy influencer of growth in non-award visa grants, accounting for nearly half of the total all by itself.

Visa grants as an indicator

We should acknowledge that visa application volumes, or even the number of visas granted, will not map precisely the actual enrolment for the year. They do, however, provide an interesting directional indicator of growth.

Looking back over the last three years, the volumes of student visas granted in the first quarter have been fairly stable at roughly 83,000-84,000 visas in total, and have represented about 28% of all visa issuances for the corresponding fiscal year. This period also reflects the dramatic recovery in international enrolment that Australia began to record in 2013. Growth that year was modest, but in the full calendar years since – that is, for 2014, 2015, and 2016 – Australia’s total enrolment growth has been on the order of 10%–12% annually.

It remains to be seen if the dramatic first quarter growth that we are observing for 2017 will now persist through the balance of the year. But for the moment, we can say two things with certainty:

  • There has been a notable increase – in excess of 20% – in student visas granted for the quarter
  • The growth is widely distributed among top 20 sending markets, with a number of increasingly important emerging markets contributing significantly to the overall increase

Growth drivers

Finally, the following table provides a snapshot of Australia’s fastest-growing source markets for the first quarter of 2017, with indications of year-over-year growth in visa grants, the number of additional visas granted in the first three months of this year, and the major categories of study for students from each country.

Please note that the markets represented in the table accounted for 81% of total growth in visa grants for the quarter.

Fastest-growing source markets for Australian education, by student visas granted during the period January-March 2017. Source: DIBP

For additional background, please see:

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