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Australia takes its double-digit growth into final quarter of 2017

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Year-to-date data through October 2017 indicates 13% growth in Australia’s international enrolment
  • Commencements are lagging slightly behind at 11% but are still on pace for solid double-digit growth again this year
  • The Australian government recently valued the sector at nearly AUS$29 billion, which makes international education the country’s third-largest export sector

The latest data out of Australia shows continuing growth in international enrolment into the final quarter of the year. The Department of Education and Training (DET) numbers for year-to-date October 2017 show overall enrolment growth of 13%, with just over 11% growth in commencements.

This is slightly off the pace that Australia had established earlier this year, but still puts the country on track for another solid year of double-digit growth.

DET reports total foreign enrolment of 766,483 students YTD October 2017. This compares to just under 680,000 international students in Australia for the same period in 2016.

As the following chart reflects, total commencements, meanwhile, reached nearly 423,000 through October 2017, compared to just over 380,000 the year before.

summary-international-student-enrolment-statistics-for-australia-year-to-date-october-2017Summary international student enrolment statistics for Australia, year-to-date October 2017. Source: DET

The higher education and vocational education and training (VET) sectors continue to account for the bulk of the growth in Australia this year. Both sectors have booked year-over-year growth of 15% or better for both commencements and overall enrolment through October 2017.

Most of that growth in higher education – about 85%, in fact – was driven by China, India, and Nepal. India figures prominently in VET enrolments as well, and remains the leading source market for Australia’s vocational training providers. However, Indian enrolment is flat this year relative to 2016, and we see instead that other markets, notably Nepal, Malaysia, China, and Brazil, are driving much of the growth in VET in 2017.

In contrast, ELICOS numbers continue to lag other sectors through October, with 4% growth for both overall enrolment and commencements. In terms of recent-month performance, overall ELICOS commencements returned to marginal growth for the month of October, after two relatively poor months in August and September during which 2017 commencements lagged behind 2016 benchmarks. China is again the leading source country for ELICOS providers this year. It accounts for nearly three in ten English language students in Australia overall, and, along with Brazil and Colombia, is driving most of the growth in ELICOS numbers through October.

We should note as well, however, that ELICOS head count only tells part of the story. In 2016, there was a significant increase in student-weeks for ELICOS courses in Australia, a growth rate that considerably outpaced the increase in enrolment for the year. A lot of that growth in terms of course weeks can be attributed to some underlying changes in the composition of ELICOS enrolment last year, particularly increasing numbers of students from the Americas and from emerging markets in Asia. It will be interesting now to see if that pattern persists for 2017.

The diversity question

In spite of this very positive growth picture, the composition of Australia’s foreign enrolment this year will again raise questions about the sustainability of current growth rates as well as the country’s reliance on a relatively small field of key sending markets.

Needless to say, this is a challenge facing many leading study destinations. But in Australia we see that the top ten source markets account for roughly seven in ten foreign students in the country. The top five senders are responsible for more than half (53%) of all international enrolments, and the top two – China and India – account for 40% all by themselves.

The same pattern plays out in terms of commencements, where China and India remain the leading source of new foreign students in Australia and where the two countries combined account for about half of all commencement growth through October.

Australian providers are clearly working hard to diversify enrolments, particularly via important growth markets in Asia and Latin America, including Vietnam, Nepal, Brazil, and Colombia. But even so the country’s current heavy reliance on China and India will likely remain an element of risk in the overall enrolment picture for Australia for the foreseeable future.

And as Australia’s international numbers continue to grow, the stakes are ever higher in this respect. As we noted recently, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has calculated the value of the country’s education exports to be AUS$28.6 billion (US$22 billion) for 2016/17. This places education as the third-largest export sector for Australia, and ABS calculates that international education now supports 130,000 jobs throughout the country.

For additional background, please see:

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