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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
27th Sep 2023

Australia’s foreign enrolment surpasses pre-pandemic benchmarks

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • The number of student visa holders in Australia has surged this year, and is now roughly 6% above 2019 levels
  • Student commencements are also up significantly this year and high levels of student visa lodgements through July 2023 suggests further growth over the next 12 months and more

The latest data from Australia paints a picture of a major destination on the upswing. Two separate reports, both from industry data specialists Studymove, provide some important insights on how enrolment has rebounded since the country reopened its borders to international students in December 2021.

The top-line finding here is that the number of foreign students holding Australian student visas now exceeds the pre-COVID threshold. The following chart indicates that the total number of visa holders reached 645,516 as of August 2023 – roughly 6% higher than the March 2020 total of 611,077.

Number of primary student visas in Australia (monthly average, all sectors. Source: Studymove, Department of Home Affairs, Department of Education

Speaking to The Koala, Studymove Managing Director Keri Ramirez said, “Remarkably, after hitting its lowest point in April 2022, it only took 14 months to return to the same levels of primary student visa holders reported prior to the closure of the international borders. This recovery has been both rapid and unexpected.”

A second data update from Studymove provides more evidence of a dramatic upswing through the first half of 2023.

YTD May 2023 data from the Australian Department of Education shows that commencements are up by 44% this year overall (compared to 2022), and by 9% when compared to 2019.

International student commencements in Australia, 2010–2023 (YTD May 2023). Source: Studymove; Department of Education

It is clear as well that South Asia is driving that 44% growth in commencements this year, with a 105% increase in commencements for students from the region. And with notable growth from key South Asian markets for YTD May 2023 such as India (25,262 students, +120% year-over-year), Nepal (10,131; +32%), Pakistan (4,454, +221%), Bhutan (3,506; +943%), Sri Lanka (3,398; +85%), and Bangladesh (2,351; +100%).

The Studymove data release asks, "Are we heading for a boom, [or just] a speedy recovery?" And while it's clear that it's too early to be definitive in this respect, the current trend with respect to student visa application lodgements suggests that the current growth trend will continue through this year and into next.

As the final chart below reflects, the total number of student visa applications lodged for higher education in the period January–July 2023 reached an historical high of 166,254. This represents a nearly 50% increase over the same period in 2022, and is 44% higher than the first half of 2019.

Number of primary student visa applications lodged for higher education (January to July), 2019–2023. Source: Studymove; Department of Home Affairs

For additional background, please see:

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