Australian universities
Data shows that the number of international students applying to study at Australian universities have plunged while the country's borders remained closed. Source: William West/AFP

Australia’s strict border closure has had an impact on international students’ willingness to enrol at Australian universities. Findings from Adventus show that the number of students applying to study abroad at Australian universities have plunged while the country’s borders remain closed, said the Riverine Herald via the Australian Associated Press (AAP). 

The SaaS-based student recruitment platform found that applications for Australian universities from international students have dropped 51% since March this year. The report adds that the latest government figures for November show there are currently 259,752 student visa holders in Australia, more than half of whom are in higher education or postgraduate research. Data shows there are still 148,464 student visa holders outside of Australia.

Universities Australia Deputy Chief Executive Anne-Marie Lansdown was quoted saying that there had been a 40% decline in commencing international students from pre-pandemic levels.

“The closure of international borders during the COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had an impact on the willingness of international students to enrol at an Australian university,” Lansdown told AAP. “Nonetheless, the fundamental attractiveness of an Australian education has not changed.”

Lansdown, however, is optimistic a “corner has been turned” as pilot plans have been announced to return international students to New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.

Australian universities

There’s been a surge in applications in Canada, the UK and the US instead. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Australia’s loss is other international student markets’ gain? 

While international student applications for Australian universities have dropped, Adventus found that since March, applications had grown by 148% in Canada, 150% in the UK and 422% in the US, partially fueled by the platform’s growth in those regions. AdventusCEO Ryan Trainor said students who would have typically chosen Australia as a study destination are looking elsewhere.

“This may have a long-term impact on the country as we have lost nearly two years of students and the flow-on effect may have longer-term implications if the government does not create a united, every-state message to the students worldwide,” Trainor told AAP.

Australia’s border closures

International students have been locked out of Australia for close to 19 months, while many have been campaigning for their return. 

In speaking about Australia’s border closure, Dr Aisi Li, assistant professor at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education, notes: “It is well reported that international students are very important for sustaining and developing Australian higher education. The drop in international student numbers will lead to a revenue loss of the universities and have a knock-on effect of job cuts or downsizing. And some might even collapse.” 

Li specialises in the internationalisation of higher education and has a DPhil in Educational Studies from the University of Oxford. She opines that Australian universities and the government should place students at the heart of its strategy to prevent the negative consequences and to attract international students back to Australia.

“This includes providing high-quality programmes, creating a safe learning and living environment, networks that provide structural support in an emergency, and employment opportunities or other career pathways after the completion of their degrees,” she tells Study International.

While universities worldwide have had to resort to online learning during the pandemic, Li notes that universities looking to recapture the international student market should mobilise the experience of online and hybrid teaching and learning during the pandemic, and re-design their programmes for international students. 

“For example, in addition to in-person programmes, there can be hybrid programmes with the students conducting part of the study online and part on campus, and online programmes with students studying the entire programme online,” she says.

“The new models are likely to be less costly and therefore can attract the students who were previously excluded mainly by the financial reasons. However, I should emphasise that the successful delivery of such programmes must be based on their quality and accompanied by excellent student experience.”