This paper – a systematic literature review – was published late last year (2023) in the Journal of International Students. It was authored by staff from Victoria University – predominantly from its Mitchell Institute. It examines factors driving international students’ choice of Australia as their preferred destination for tertiary education. There is also a good summary paper in The Conversation that summarises this work and compliments the summary we have written below.

International students often choose to study abroad to obtain international qualifications, widen their cultural understanding, improve or gain a foreign language or seek immigration opportunities.

According to this paper, Australia is the third largest study-abroad destination in the world and it’s worth a lot of money to the economy. It also broadens Australia’s cultural landscape and

diversifies the local skillset.

What makes Australia attractive?

Their work identified 27 factors that revealed Australia’s distinctive attractiveness to international students. Some of these factors include “its attractive and flexible pathway to higher education” and the possibility of “credit transfer for international students who want to transition from vocational education courses in their home country or Australia,” our universities’ reputations, affordable tuition fees, flexible payment options, and a welcoming and safe learning environment. Other factors can include attractive government policies, visa regulations and economic conditions. English is a preferred international language to learn and in which to be proficient. In short, Australia offers potential international students with an attractive combination of academic and non-academic advantages.

However, according to news items of late, Australia has had a spike in student visa rejections due to a variety of factors, including the housing crisis, the need to actually be a genuine student, issues with English language proficiency or enrolling at a high risk institution.

Push and pull factors

A range of studies have shown that international students are often motivated by a combination of push and pull factors. Push factors are generally negative and related to their home country. They ‘push’ people to leave their home country whilst ‘pull’ factors, generally positive, attract students to host countries like Australia.

Pull factors

The top 5 ‘pull’ factors included career opportunities and life experiences, quality education and qualification, cost of study and living, migration prospect and policy, and reputation of tertiary education institutions and academic staff. The paper pointed out that:

“It is worth noting that international students often had a long-term vision for the post-study future when considering Australia as a tertiary education destination.”

The second most frequent group of 7 pull factors include physical environment and lifestyle; family influence; having a western culture and English language and also being a safe, low crime, low racial discrimination environment. Others included course variety, content, and duration; the availability of scholarships and recommendations from others. Indeed, the paper points out that Australia is seen as a multicultural society with a good lifestyle that is safe with low rates of crime which also enjoys a low racial discrimination environment, and warm weather. According to the paper it is often described as a ‘beautiful’, ‘welcoming’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘comfortable’ destination. So, unsurprisingly, Australia is recommended by many international students’ parents, relatives, and friends.

According to the paper, the least frequently reported factors pulling international students to Australia are university pathways from vocational education and training (VET) or English language intensive courses for overseas students (ELICOS), prior Australian experience, public universities (although these institutions can be preferred providers by some nationalities), education cooperation and city size.

Push factors

Five push factors were reported from the studies reviewed and affected students’ preferences to choose Australia as their preferred destination. These include poorer locally avilable tertiary education, competitive university entry, family expectation, social norms and the unavailability of desired courses. As the paper notes:

“Specifically, the most common reason driving international students to study abroad was their dissatisfaction with tertiary education in their home countries.”

Reasons for dissatisfaction include the suppression of students’ academic freedom, perceived injustice in university admission or highly competitive university entry, and lack of transparency in assessment and evaluation.

As the paper reports:

“Unsurprising [the result] of this review is that pull factors far outnumbered push factors. Five push factors found in this study (poorer domestic tertiary education, competitive university entry, family expectation, social norms, and unavailability of desired courses) did not specifically explain why international students decide to study abroad in Australia as these are also commonly reported by international students in other destinations.”

Are things at risk?

The paper points out that:

“Of the 22 pull factors, 10 were environment-related factors (e.g., career opportunities and life experiences, safe environment, Western culture and English language, and proximity to home country), eight were academic-related (e.g., quality education and qualification, reputation of tertiary education institutions and academic staff, and scholarships), and four were person-related (e.g., family influence, recommendations from others, and prior Australia experiences).”