Mitchell Institute – part of Victoria University – has released two papers by Peter Hurley forecasting the impacts of the coronavirus on the international education sector and the broader economy, and making policy recommendations to drive recovery. 

“The longer the travel restrictions remain in place, the greater the losses”

“Coronavirus and international students” predicts there will be around 300,000 international students living in Australia by mid 2021, a drop of 50%, unless borders are reopened, and the loss will be even greater if the borders remain closed longer. 

“The longer the travel restrictions remain in place, the greater the losses associated with the international education sector,” the report notes.

“Modelling based on the rate of decline experienced in the first six months of the pandemic suggests that, compared to October 2019, there will be an approximate 50% reduction in international students inside Australia by July 2021.

“If the travel restrictions remain in place until July 2022, the modelling suggests about 165,000 international students will remain inside Australia, a reduction of over 410,000 compared to October 2019,” it states. 

The report uses the latest data to map the impact of the international student crisis across Australia’s cities and shows every major Australian city is experiencing a significant drop in international students. 

Hurley said Australia is facing the dual problem of fewer new international students coupled with current students leaving the country. 

The report predicts any recovery will be slow with applications for international student visas who are outside Australia are approximately 80–90% below what they were at the same time in 2019.

“This is important because applicants from outside Australia will replace those students who finish their studies and return home,” it reads.

“This suggests there will be a substantial impact on overall international student figures for some time, as new students from outside Australia are unable to start their courses.” 

He also warned the impact of Australia’s international education crisis will be felt far beyond the university sector with around 57%, or AUS$21.4 billion, of the $37.5 billion in annual revenue associated with international education coming from goods and services spent in the wider economy.

An issues paper, also authored by Hurley, entitled International Students Vital To Coronavirus Recovery outlined the longer term relationship between Australia and its international students with a significant number becoming permanent residents.

“International students from all over the world have become an integral part of our communities”

“There are international students from 199 countries in Australia. The data showing where international students live illustrates how international students from all over the world have become an integral part of our communities.

“International students are also future Australians. Every year approximately 13,000 to 30,000 international students transition to permanent residency visas. Of international students granted a visa between 2000/01 and 2013/14, 16% transitioned to a permanent residency visa at some stage after arriving in Australia.”

He warned the Covid-19 pandemic is an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary action and it is important to investigate ways to ensure a quick recovery in international student enrolments and to support education institutions so they can continue to function properly.

Continuing to involve international student representatives in the coronavirus response is essential, according to Hurley.

His paper states that it “equips policy makers with a better understanding of the issues facing international students”.

“It will also increase the effectiveness of initiatives that support a recovery in international student enrolments,” the paper adds.

Investigating ways to encourage new international student enrolments when travel restrictions end, increasing capacity across the tertiary education sector so institutions can provide domestic students with the training needed to reskill and upskill, and supporting current international students are also recommended.

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