Universities have reported unheard-of demand from international students, who have sent visa applications at a rate that is 40% higher than it was before COVID. This demand is primarily driven by students from India and the subcontinent.
For the first time in December, more applications for visas came from India than from China. There were also significant rises in the number of applicants from Nepal, Colombia, and the Philippines.
Universities all around Australia attested to the recovery of the foreign student market, which in 2019 brought in $40 billion in export revenues before the pandemic shut down borders for the years 2020–21.
Preliminary data indicates that this year’s enormous surge is being driven by surging applications from India, which is currently the leading source country for student enrolments.
Applications to the University of Wollongong are 40% higher than in 2019, and China has been supplanted by India and Pakistan as the university’s two main sources of new students. According to Macquarie University, despite a 27% decline in demand from China, India, and the subcontinent still saw high demand.
Applications from India increased by almost 150% at the University of Queensland, while those from China increased by about 40% and those from Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Taiwan also showed significant growth. UNSW in Sydney still recorded a 25% rise in Chinese students.
137,395 offshore student visa applications were submitted in the six months leading up to December of last year, significantly more than the 35,100 in 2021, 32,600 in 2020, and 96,600 in 2019.
It was the first time that Indian visa applications outnumbered Chinese ones, with 43,925 granted compared to 38,700. In the six months leading up to December, the immigration department processed 204,000 visas overall by clearing up a sizable backlog of petitions and issuing new visas.
Experts have cautioned that the increase in interest may be due to the abundance of job options and unrestricted work hours available to those with student visas. They have also warned that authorities need to be aware of students utilising their student visas to work.
They note that Pakistan, India, and Nepal are highly risky and claim that there is already anecdotal evidence of students migrating from expensive state universities to inexpensive private colleges with laxer academic standards after arriving in the country.
Phil Honeywood, chief executive officer of the International Education Association, said the increase in new applications was encouraging but pointed out that two years of below-average enrolments were still being felt.
“We had two years of virtually no students coming in, so the pipeline is still very much reduced because for two years the only commencements were online”, as per Mr. Honeywood.
According to Jake Foster, the chief commercial officer of the student recruitment service AECC, a surge in demand from international students is being driven by factors such as high-quality education, well well-regarded universities, safety, and employment possibilities.
Mr Foster said, “It has been positive to see international education return to Australia after the pandemic cut students off from Australia for almost two long years. We see big demand for courses in areas where Australia has critical skills shortages like IT and computer science, further highlighting the important contributions that international students can and will make to Australia in the future.”
According to Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, demand has returned to pre-pandemic levels because “we have a good product to offer, and international students know it.”
“International students would also be aware that Australia is facing a skills shortage and see the opportunity to not only study here, but potentially stay on and work once they graduate,” Ms Jackson said.
Australia is still the second-most popular destination for Indian students behind Canada, according to a recent AECC survey. Of the 4670 aspiring Indian international students surveyed, 29% indicated that Canada was their top choice, followed by Australia (21.3%), the UK (18%), and the US (17.3 per cent).
The right to remain and work in Australia after graduation as well as career prospects were cited by prospective students as important reasons for choosing it as the safest location. Positively, the study discovered that the bulk of the 26% of prospective students who changed their preferred location changed it from Canada to Australia.