International students boost Australia's economy, but are locals happy about it?
International students are a boon to Australia's economy. Source: Study Melbourne/Twitter

The land down under, Australia, has been synonymous with international higher education for decades, especially among Asian students.

The country offers English language courses and a Western-style education to learners while being close enough that they don’t have to travel too far from home to study abroad compared to the US and UK.

It’s a popular destination among international students from China, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam and India, among other countries, and many have stayed on after their studies to settle down.

The number of international students in Australia increased by 12 percent to 525,054 last year, and students from China take up the largest proportion at 31 percent.

But how do Australians really feel about the saturation of international students across their universities? Are they in support of it or not?

A recent study by JWS Research, as reported by Universities Australia, found that an overwhelming majority of locals recognise the importance of international students and their significant impact on the economy.

The study was based on a survey of 1500 people which found that “81 per cent of Australians grasp that international education makes a major contribution to national prosperity.”

According to Times Higher Education, “The figure grew to 85 per cent after respondents had been given specifics about the revenue flows and job creation attributable to international education. Almost three in five deemed foreign students’ financial contribution “very” or “vitally” important.”

International education generates export income of $34.9 billion a year for Australia, supporting more than 240,000 jobs across the country, and is currently their third-largest export.

Universities Australia Chief Executive, Catriona Jackson, said that for the most part, Australians are able to clearly see just how important international students are:

“The Australian public absolutely get it: they know international students make a hugely valuable contribution to our local communities, society, global outlook and economy. The income they bring into Australia supports local jobs, wages and living standards right across the country – but their contribution is about so much more than the economy.

“Australians also benefit from the powerful personal, cultural, diplomatic and trade ties that are forged when brilliant students from across the globe spend their formative years here.

“When these talented students return home – as 85 per cent do – they join a global network of alumni with deep understanding and lifelong affection for Australia. And those who stay on are highly-skilled graduates who are needed in our nation’s economy.”

She also said that the popularity of choosing Australia as an international education destination is not a coincidence, but something that has been “nurtured carefully by our world-class universities for more than six decades”.

The country focuses on quality and high standards which attract students from all around the world to, as they know “Australia offers a world-class education in one of the world’s best locations”.

Students relaxing on a sunny day outside the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Source: Shutterstock

There’s no doubt that international students are a boon to the Australian economy, as last year, the Group of Eight leading universities in the country claimed that “every three international students they enrolled contributed AU$1 million (US$717,000) to the Australian economy during the course of their degrees”.

These latest survey results come approximately a month after another survey made headlines, where 54 percent of Australians thought foreign student numbers should not be increased.

The study by University of New South Wales (UNSW) also surveyed 1,500 people, where 62 percent of 18-34 year olds said that “restrictions should be placed on foreign enrolments”, and nearly half of those holding a bachelor-level degree agreed.

It could be misconception and false fears that international students are stealing places from local students that are driving these responses, according to UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Merlin Crossley, in speaking to the Australian Financial Review.

“We set a fair price and, we get a fair trade in the international market and that funds our universities. People may have a perception international students take places from domestic students. But that has never happened.”

He said that universities ought to be mindful of the effects a large increase in international student enrolments can have on the public.

Crossley said, “It’s the same with a lot of changes in society. Too many ‘big bangs’ and things become dislocated. This information tells us that universities’ ‘measured growth’ is what we want. Australian universities are the envy of the world. Their growth has been a huge success story. But Australia is a small country and Australians are anxious about becoming a little bit small in Asia.”

Whether or not the locals are on board, it’s a fact that Australia’s international student population is growing day by day, and it seems it may soon knock the UK out of the No.2 spot for top study abroad destinations.

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