australia international students
Australia international students have been waiting impatiently to return to the country. Source: Peter Parks/AFP

The number of Australia international students have been dwindling since the country’s prolonged border closure have kept most students out for almost two years. Reports suggest that international students are flocking to countries that have opened their borders to them sooner than Australia.

India has been one of the main sources for international students in Australia and the country, but data suggests they are moving to other countries such as the UK.

New research by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University shows that countries such as Australia and New Zealand continue to experience a dramatic drop in new international students. Researchers add that countries like Australia and New Zealand have lost students to other countries while international students are heading to Canada, the UK and the US in record numbers despite the pandemic.

Australia international students

There are many questions left unanswered which is why students such as Deepesh Batra from India, have used Twitter to voice their concerns with hashtags like #LetUsBacktoAus and #InternationalStudentsAustralia. Source: Deepesh Batra

Border closure has been tough on Australia international students

Mitchell Institute research shows that the number of Indian international students going to Australia fell by 62% in the 12 months to September 2021 compared to 2019. In contrast, new Indian international students to the UK more than doubled, jumping by 174%.

India has also overtaken China as the largest source country of international students.

The research also looked at the impact of the pandemic on new international students by their country of origin. The table below shows the changes in the number of new student visas for the largest source countries. Data shows that new international students from India have increased by about 27% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Behind this increase lies shifts in student choice.

Australia international students

Report author Dr. Peter Hurley said it was highly likely that many students who planned to study in Australia had gone elsewhere, particularly students from India who have gone to the UK.

“Part of the reason international students pay high fees is to experience a different culture and, for many, to immersive themselves in a country with a different language,” said Hurley. “They can’t do that when they are studying online.

“This data shows that international students are looking to the countries that are open, and where they can travel and gain the whole international student experience.”

Deepesh Batra, an Australia international student, was among the thousands of Australia international students who were waiting with bated breath to return to the country. He previously told Study International that he felt the “terrible impact” of the country’s hard borders since March 2020.

“I’ve deferred the commencement of my course twice. As an international student in Australia, I had faith that the borders would open soon. This comes based on what the leaders have been promising but that clearly hasn’t been the case so far,” said Batra. “I find myself in a terrible position where I don’t have any stability in my career. I can’t excel in my current job or begin my course online because of its complexity and no one knows when the borders might open.” 

Separately, a recent study on Indian student sentiment to study in Australia by researchers Anna Boucher and Elisa Choy shows that Australia has fallen as an attractive future option for education since their last analysis of this issue in Nov. 2020, challenging the likelihood that India will emerge as a viable alternative source of students.

Their data also shows that Indian interest in Australia as an education destination has worsened significantly since Nov. 2020 due to the perception that the country was unwelcoming to Indian students in Australia.