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Why Australian universities must offer students a better deal now

Governments and Australian universities are planning for the recovery of the international student market once Australia can start easing border closures that have had huge impacts on universities and the economy. The situation is becoming increasingly urgent: a new ANU-commissioned analysis shows an alarming fall in international student demand for Australian universities. It’s less than two-thirds of what it was before the pandemic.

This chart from the IDP Connect report for ANU shows Australia’s share of this market (the yellow line) has fallen to 11.74% from over 18% two years ago. Australia’s key competitors — the UK, USA and Canada — have increased their share or remained stable.

As Australia moves out of winter and vaccination rates rise, it is hoped current regional outbreaks of COVID-19 will settle. But no-one should assume international student numbers will immediately rebound to pre-pandemic levels once borders open. Other recent global surveys show students’ perceptions of how countries have handled the pandemic are affecting their decisions on study destinations.

And research released this week shows student sentiment about Australia as a destination continues to decline. The IDP Connect Crossroads research also finds 36% of surveyed students are likely to switch destinations if it means they can gain face-to-face teaching earlier.

Over the rest of this year and early 2022, we all need to focus on our post-COVID recovery. South Australia has been given the all clear to begin a quarantine program for international students. A NSW-based program has been approved by the state government and the Commonwealth government has signalled support for the plan. Other proposals are in the pipeline.

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