Data shows that international education in Australia is becoming increasingly female, with Chinese students dominating the top country of origin for female international students.
A new report by The Lygon Group has found that the numbers of female international students in Australia have risen 22% between 2016 and 2020, compared to 18% in male international students.
The report also found that female-dominant source countries are more lucrative for Australia’s economy and provide more international students to Australian workplaces and communities.
In their report “Resilient, successful, and stable: A gendered approach to international education recovery”, The Lygon Group said a gendered analysis of international student mobility could facilitate recovery efforts and strategies. The report focuses on the most recent data available to place a gendered lens over Australia’s international students during the first year of the pandemic.
“Placing a gendered lens over Australia’s international education sector is one of the mechanisms that can be applied to build a sustainable and effective recovery strategy,” they said. “This report uses the most recent available data (2020) to take a gendered look at how the first year of the pandemic impacted our international student community.”
Chinese students not returning to Australia in droves yet
International students have spent nearly two years locked out of Australia due to the country’s strict border controls. The border reopening in December came as a relief to thousands of stranded students clamouring to return, but at the beginning of 2022, the real impact of extended closed borders on international student flows is still emerging, read the report.
“What we do know is that Chinese students are not returning in the numbers that many had hoped. With China our largest source of female international students it is likely that our numbers of female international students studying in Australia will decline in the coming year,” it said.
To put into context, due to the size of the Chinese market, a 7% overall drop in student numbers over the course of one year represents a decline of 11,223 students, or more than all the Indonesian students that came to Australia in 2019.
Any percentage drop in Chinese students represents a huge loss in student numbers to Australia’s institutions, and this has ramifications for the gender mix of Australia’s international student body.
“China has been behind much of the growth in female students arriving in Australia,” said the report. Over 54% of Chinese international students studying with Australian institutions are female. “This mirrors China’s overall growth in the proportion of women leaving China for study which has increased fivefold, so that today 60% of outgoing students from China are female.”
Between 2019 and 2020, female enrolments from China dropped 9% while male enrolments dropped 5%, said the report. Despite this, female enrolments from China have outnumbered male enrolments by more than 10,000 students.
“With predicted continued falls in Chinese student enrolments, this gap is expected to narrow in the coming years,” said the report.
More female representation in higher education
Women’s enrolment in higher education globally has grown almost twice as fast as the rate of male enrolment in the past four decades. This is due to increased equity and access, enhanced income potential and the internationally recognised imperative to narrow the gender gap at all levels of education.
In Australia, the number of female international students rose 22% between 2016 and 2020, despite the decline in student numbers during the first year of the pandemic. The numbers of male students also rose during this time but at a slower rate — 18%. Today, there are almost equal numbers of male (51%) and female (49%) international students in Australia.
China and India dominate the top countries of origin for female international students; combined, they send over 100,000 female students to study in Australia each year. There are seven key markets that send more female students to study in Australia than males: Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Between 2000 and 2016, female enrolments in tertiary education in the Asia Pacific region increased by 41 million, resulting in participation levels in this region being in favour of females in many parts of Asia-Pacific today. There are now more women and girls in school today in the Asia-Pacific region than ever before,” said the report.
Enrolments from female-majority markets were relatively stable during the first year of the pandemic.
The top five female dominant markets, even without their largest contributor, are still responsible for more than double of students enrolled in Australia than the top five male-dominant markets and are more lucrative for Australia’s economy.