We all know that coronavirus has had a devastating effect, particularly on the international student market.

This latest report from the Mitchell Institute’s Peter Hurley brings things up to date.

What’s been happening?

In our last issue described work by Jen Walsh and Hugh Guthrie on international students using homestay. Peter Hurley’s work entitled: “International students vital to coronavirus recovery” earlier this year took a first look at COVID’s effect on this key educational market. Then, his report highlighted that:

“tens of thousands of international students have been unable to return to Australia or start their courses. In April 2020, only 30 international students arrived or returned to Australia, down from 43,380 in April 2019.”

In these reports he points out to the enormous economic fallout for the university sector as well as more broadly in terms of the goods and services international student use while they are here. In fact: “The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2020) estimates that international education contributed about $21.4 billion in goods and services to the Australian economy in 2018–19,” so – what’s the story now?

The simple truth, he says, is that the international student market has collapsed, although South Australia may bring in around 300 students as a trial. However,

“Applications for student visas for individuals who are outside Australia are approximately 80–90% below what they were at the same time in 2019. [and] There are approximately 210,000 fewer international students in Australia than would otherwise be expected,” Hurley says.

It’s also “unclear whether programs that enable currently enrolled international students outside Australia to return will have a substantial impact” [and] “this is because many international students inside Australia are choosing to leave the country.”

The impact of this loss of market is certainly not uniform geographically, either. Sydney and Melbourne are the largest hubs for international students and “have likely experienced a substantial reduction.” His research found that “the loss is more concentrated in Melbourne’s CBD area whereas in Sydney the reduction is more evenly spread throughout the city.”

There is an interesting table in the report (Table 1) that compares the numbers of currently enrolled students within and outside Australia in March and October 2020. Chinese and Indian students have large numbers, as we know, but the interesting thing is to look at the shifts in just that roughly 7-month period. Many non-Chinese students were able to beat the travel restrictions and get to Australia before we locked down very tightly. On the other hand, while overall numbers remaining enrolled in Australia have dropped there has been a rise in those studying in their home country. So, while numbers enrolled and studying in Australia were down over this period by nearly 94,500 students, numbers of student who were enrolled but living in their home countries went up by nearly 20,000.

The Mitchell Institute’s modelling shows that the longer borders remain shut the more international student enrolments will decline. We don’t know when and in what numbers international students will be able to return. In an interview with Tom Connell of Sky News Minister Tehan discusses the issue of the international student market at some length.

An upside for our international student market is that we would now been seen as a relatively safe haven, certainly in comparison with much of Europe and the US at present. The key issue now is when, how, and how many international students will return to study in Australia. Down the track will we see a shift in where they come from when they do? And, will we see a sustained shift in the numbers studying in their home countries? For now, the priority is bringing our own citizens home. You can check out a statement from the Prime Minister on that and broader COVID issues here.