Australia’S International Student Growth: Balancing Quality And Quantity

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Australia’s higher education sector has long been a preferred destination for international students seeking quality education and cultural experiences. The country has witnessed significant growth in its international student population in recent years, contributing significantly to its economy. However, a recent analysis suggests that a focus on “quality over quantity” in international education could lead to uneven growth in the sector. This article explores the scenarios and policy considerations surrounding Australia’s international student growth.

Quality and Quantity

According to a presentation at the Australian International Education Conference (AIEC), Navitas’s Jon Chew and Ethan Fogarty discussed three scenarios for the future of international student flows in Australia. In the first scenario, if international student numbers grow at a rate of 3.7% per year, while domestic student numbers grow at 1.8% per year, the international share of students in Australian universities will continue to rise. In this scenario, some universities could eventually reach a 50:50 ratio of domestic to international students. However, uneven growth could lead to some universities with more than half of their population being international students.

Smaller Sector with Quality Focus

In the second scenario, the Australian government focuses on a “smaller sector” and emphasizes quality over quantity in international education. In this case, growth would continue but at a slower rate. The risk here is the potential for uneven growth, with the Group of Eight (Go8) universities gaining more market share, as they have done in the past.

The Go8, which comprises Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, has seen an increase in the share of international students since the COVID-19 pandemic. Their share has grown from at least 32% to 38%. Even during the 2010 economic downturn, their shares increased from 26% to 28%.

India and Africa’s Potential

Navitas’s presentation also considered scenarios related to the origin of international students. One question raised was whether India might overtake China as the leading international student nationality in Australia. The analysis suggests that China’s market share is likely to remain unchanged, and India would need to grow by more than 10% a year to catch up. While India might not surpass China globally, it remains a significant market for Australian universities and providers.

Additionally, the presentation highlighted the potential opportunities in Africa, with Nigeria being a standout performer. While most countries in Africa are expected to experience growth in their student share in Australia, Nigeria, and other English-speaking destinations could offer considerable growth prospects. However, the low current market share in Africa presents a challenge, and visa policies need to be adapted to facilitate recruitment from this region.


A “Team Australia” Approach

To tap into the potential of emerging markets, including those in Africa, Julian Hill MP called for a “Team Australia” approach at the AIEC. He suggested that government and providers should collaborate to identify and focus on a select number of new markets. The interim report from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade mentioned countries like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, and Zimbabwe as potential growth markets.

Furthermore, the presence of a growing diaspora from countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan in Australia could provide a foundation for increased international student recruitment from these nations.


The future of Australia’s international education sector is intertwined with policy choices and global trends. The balance between quality and quantity, the rise of India as a dominant market, and the potential growth in Africa are all factors that will shape the landscape of international education in Australia. Policymakers and educational institutions will need to adapt to ensure that the sector continues to thrive, maintaining its reputation for providing world-class education while welcoming diverse international students. The “Team Australia” approach and a focus on quality will play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable growth in the international education sector.

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