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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2002  
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Contents >> Education >> Participation in Education: Overseas students

Participation in Education: Overseas students

In 2000, there were 153,400 overseas students studying in Australia. Almost half (47%) were studying in higher education.

Over the past two decades, increasing numbers of overseas students have come to Australia. In 2000, overseas students generated $3.7 billion for the Australian economy.1 Exporting education has played a major role in forging links with other countries, especially in Asia, from which the majority of overseas students originate. Moreover, by accepting increasing numbers of overseas students, Australia has become more widely recognised in the arena of international education, and is regarded as a safe, friendly study destination with high quality courses.2

As well as the economic benefits, there are cultural and political advantages to welcoming overseas students. Agreements about educational exchange are an important element of Australia's foreign relations policies with countries such as China, India and Indonesia.3 A diverse student population helps to foster cultural exchange and understanding amongst students. Some overseas students also add to our cultural diversity and skilled labour supply by becoming permanent residents after finishing their studies. This article examines some of the characteristics of overseas students and their role in Australian society.


Overseas visitor arrivals and overseas students
This article draws on two different sources of data about overseas students.
  • Data on overseas visitor arrivals are taken from the ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection. Overseas visitors are people arriving in Australia from other countries for temporary visits which are either long-term (12 months or greater) or short-term (less than 12 months). Overseas visitor arrivals for education refer to those who nominated education as their main purpose of journey, regardless of whether they had a student visa. Therefore, New Zealand citizens and people intending to undertake short-term courses in Australia (such as work-related training, personal interest courses and some English language courses) not requiring a student visa, are included. Visitor arrivals refer to movements rather than individuals and thus multiple entries of individuals are counted. For more information, see Overseas Arrivals and Departures, Australia (ABS cat. no. 3401.0).
  • Data on overseas students are sourced from the Australian Education International Overseas Student Statistics Collection. For Commonwealth higher education institutions, data are collected from higher education institutions. For other providers of higher education and for other educational sectors, data are gathered from a register of courses and institutions for overseas students and matched with data on student visa holders.


Trends in overseas student arrivals
In 1999-2000, 64,000 long-term visitor arrivals and 163,100 short-term visitor arrivals stated that education was their main purpose for travelling to Australia. This represents 48% of all long-term visitor arrivals and 4% of all short-term visitor arrivals. Long-term visitor arrivals for education have increased by more than eight times since 1981-82 (from 7,600), while short-term visitor arrivals for education have increased tenfold over the same period (from 16,300).

Over the last two decades, there have been some changes to the ranking of the countries of residence of visitor arrivals for education. While Malaysia, the United States of America, Hong Kong and Indonesia have frequently been present in the top five, Singapore and China have become more prominent in the 1990s. Papua New Guinea and New Zealand declined in relative importance as source countries through the 1980s and 1990s, although the numbers of arrivals from these countries continued to increase.

SELECTED COUNTRIES OF RESIDENCE OF VISITOR ARRIVALS(a) FOR EDUCATION

(a) Both long-term and short-term.

Source: ABS 1980-2000 Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


Since the early 1980s, the quality of Australian education has become better known and promoted more widely internationally. As the economies of Asian countries grew, so did their need for a skilled, educated workforce. Australia absorbed many students who might otherwise have studied in the United States of America or the United Kingdom, because Asian students perceived it as being closer and cheaper.2

Between 1997-98 and 1998-99, there was a decline in the number of arrivals for education from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. This was associated with the Asian currency crisis in 1997-98, resulting in fewer people travelling to study because of the increased cost.4 Countries less affected by the currency crisis (such as China and Singapore) did not experience the same declines in visitor arrivals, and arrivals from the United States of America rose markedly due to a large increase in short-term visitor arrivals. Between 1998-99 and 1999-2000, visitor arrivals from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Malaysia increased, and in 1999-2000 visitor arrivals for education from all countries were larger than ever before.

MAJOR COUNTRIES OF RESIDENCE OF VISITOR ARRIVALS(a) FOR EDUCATION

Year ended 30 June

1982
1988
1994
2000
Country of residence
'000
'000
'000
'000

Indonesia
1.3
3.8
11.6
23.4
Singapore
0.9
2.4
9.2
19.2
United States of America
1.4
3.4
6.9
18.0
Hong Kong (SAR of China)
1.6
4.2
10.2
16.9
Malaysia
5.5
7.9
11.0
16.2
China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
0.2
6.4
2.5
14.0
New Zealand
2.4
3.8
4.5
6.2
Papua New Guinea
3.2
3.5
4.8
4.2
Total(b)
23.9
54.9
110.5
227.1

(a) Both long-term and short-term.
(b) Also includes other countries not listed and therefore components do not add to total.

Source: ABS 1980-2000 Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


Overseas students and educational sectors
For providers of higher education, overseas students are defined as students who are neither Australian nor New Zealand citizens and who are enrolled in a higher education course at some point over the year.

For sectors other than higher education, overseas students are defined as foreign visitors in Australia who have student visas and who attend an educational course on a full-fee paying basis (although they may not be paying these fees themselves) at any point over the year. Citizens of New Zealand are excluded because they do not require student visas. Students on institutional exchange programs are also excluded because they neither pay fees nor have their fees subsidised. In this article, students studying offshore (that is, at campuses of Australian education institutions outside Australia or by distance education outside Australia) are excluded, unless otherwise stated.

Students are allocated to educational sectors based on the courses they study. Where an institution offers different types of courses, students are allocated to sectors based on the type of course predominantly undertaken at that institution. School education refers to study at the primary or secondary level. Vocational education refers to study at the certificate and diploma level. Higher education refers to study at the bachelor degree or associate degree level or above. English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) refers to a range of different courses in English language taught at higher education institutions, vocational education institutions, schools or private colleges.


Characteristics of overseas students
In 2000, there were 153,400 overseas students in Australia, according to Australian Education International. This figure differs from the estimate of overseas visitor arrivals for education because it counts the number of students in Australia during the year, rather than the number of arrivals into Australia. It also only counts those students with student visas or students in higher education who are not Australian or New Zealand citizens, while overseas visitor arrivals count every person who states education is their main purpose for travelling.

Almost half of the 153,400 overseas students in Australia during 2000 were studying in the higher education sector (72,700 or 47%). Higher education experienced the greatest growth in overseas student numbers, doubling between 1994 and 2000. The number of students in vocational education also increased over this period (from 19,500 to 30,800), while those in school education remained much the same (around 13,000).

OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN DIFFERENT EDUCATIONAL SECTORS

(a) English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students.

Source: Australian Education International, Overseas Student Statistics 2000.


English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) numbers generally increased between 1994 and 2000, although numbers have varied within this period, peaking in 1996, falling substantially in 1997 and 1998, then recovering somewhat in 1999 and 2000. These courses may have been more affected by the Asian currency crisis than others, because some students undertake them as part of work-related training. In addition, overseas visitors may combine plans to study short English courses with plans to holiday in Australia. Visitors from countries affected by the currency crisis might have postponed holiday plans until their country's economic situation improved.

Reflecting the fact that most overseas students are studying in higher education, in 2000 they were most commonly aged 20-24 years (43%). There were also similar numbers of men and women from overseas countries studying in Australia. This contrasts with the situation in 1983, when most (67%) overseas students in higher education were men (see Australian Social Trends, 1995, Overseas students in higher education.

OVERSEAS STUDENTS - 2000

Source: Australian Education International 2000 Overseas Student Statistics Collection.


...in schools
In 2000, close to 1,400 overseas students were attending primary school while 11,400 were attending secondary school. They comprised 9% of all overseas students. While the number of overseas students in schools has remained much the same since 1994, in 2000 they represented a smaller proportion of overseas students. This is due to the steady increase of overseas students in higher education.

Between 1994 and 2000, the relatively small number of overseas students studying at primary schools trebled, while the number in secondary schools decreased by 7%. However, there were still many more overseas students in secondary than in primary school in 2000. This could be associated with the fact that some overseas students arrive in Australia for the final years of secondary school in preparation for further education.5

DISTRIBUTION OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS(a) IN SCHOOLS ACROSS STATES AND TERRITORIES

Primary
Secondary


1994
2000
1994
2000

State or territory
%
%
%
%
New South Wales
21.7
19.3
32.3
20.2
Victoria
14.7
20.3
25.6
39.2
Queensland
44.4
30.1
17.6
17.2
South Australia
4.5
4.8
4.7
4.8
Western Australia
11.0
22.7
16.3
11.2
Tasmania
1.0
0.9
0.9
2.4
Northern Territory
1.2
0.7
0.4
1.4
Australian Capital Territory
1.5
1.2
2.3
3.7
Australia
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

no.
no.
no.
no.
Australia
401
1,385
12,237
11,423

(a) As these data refer only to those students who hold a student visa, they exclude overseas visitors' dependants attending school, such as children of adults with working visas or children of diplomats.

Source: Australian Education International 1994 and 2000 Overseas Student Statistics Collection.


...in higher education and vocational education
As noted earlier, in 2000, 72,700 or 47% of overseas students were studying in the higher education sector. The majority (64%) of these were studying towards bachelor degrees.

While most overseas students in higher education are self-funded, a small proportion are studying under scholarships. In 2000, 4% were recipients of Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) scholarships. Higher education students were more likely to have been recipients of these scholarships than vocational education students. In 2000, only 1% of vocational education students were studying with AusAID scholarships.

OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION - 2000

Level of study(a)
'000
%

Higher education
    Doctorate
3.2
3.1
    Masters
14.7
14.2
    Other postgraduate
3.7
3.5
    Bachelor
46.7
45.1
    Other courses
4.4
4.3
    Total higher education
72.7
70.3
Vocational education
    Certificate
6.4
6.2
    Diploma
23.1
22.3
    Other courses
1.2
1.2
    Total vocational education
30.8
29.7
Total
103.5
100.0

(a) Level of study as described by Australian Education International.

Source: Australian Education International 2000 Overseas Student Statistics Collection.


The increase in overseas student numbers in vocational education (from 19,500 in 1994 to 30,800 in 2000) could be attributed to the fact that the vocational education and training sector expanded during the 1990s. Overseas students may have been attracted to its increasingly varied curriculum.

In 2000, the most common field of study for overseas students in both higher education and vocational education was Business, administration and economics (44% of higher education students and 58% of vocational education students). These field of study choices for overseas students differed in some respects from those of Australian students. In 2000, Business, administration and economics was the most common field of study for Australian vocational education and training students. For Australian higher education students, Arts, humanities and social science was the most common field, with Business, administration and economics a close second.6

DISTRIBUTION OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN HIGHER EDUCATION AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION ACROSS SELECTED FIELDS OF STUDY - 2000

Source: Australian Education International, Overseas Student Statistics 2000.


INTERNATIONAL COMPARISON
Overseas student numbers in higher education vary substantially across countries. Australia and the United Kingdom have the largest proportions of overseas students relative to all higher education students (14% and 10%, respectively). The United States of America hosts the greatest number (451,900).

OVERSEAS HIGHER EDUCATION STUDENTS IN SELECTED COUNTRIES, 1999

Total overseas students
Overseas students as a proportion of all students
Host country
'000
%

Australia
117.5
13.9
United Kingdom
209.5
10.1
Canada
35.5
3.0
New Zealand
6.9
4.1
United States of America
451.9
3.3
Japan
56.6
1.4
Korea (Republic of)
2.9
0.1

Source: OECD Online Education Database, <URL: http://www1.oecd.org/els/education/ei/> accessed March 15 2002.


...in intensive English language courses
In addition to overseas students who come to Australia to study towards degrees, certificates and other long-term courses, some students come for shorter periods to undertake courses in English language. Around 36,800 or 24% of overseas students were undertaking English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) in 2000. These courses can be undertaken at a variety of institutions. While those undertaken at higher education and vocational education institutions may be part of a degree or diploma, those undertaken at private institutions can be as short as six weeks. In 2000, almost half (48%) of overseas students undertaking ELICOS were studying in private colleges, while 27% were studying at vocational education institutions and 22% at higher education institutions.

However, unlike students undertaking other courses, ELICOS students do not require a student visa, and these figures do not include overseas visitors who undertake English language courses while in Australia on a tourist or a working holiday visa. In 2000, it was estimated that 43% of overseas visitors studying ELICOS had other types of visas.

OVERSEAS STUDENTS (a) STUDYING ENGLISH LANGUAGE INTENSIVE COURSES - 2000

(a) With student visas only.

Source: Australian Education International, Overseas Student Statistics 2000.


Exporting education
Overseas students continue to be a major source of revenue for Australian educational institutions, with their expenditure on fees increasing from $883 million to $1.8 billion between 1994 and 2000. Overseas students also contribute to the Australian economy more generally. For example, in 2000 they spent $1.9 billion on goods and services while in Australia.

In recent years, the Australian education industry has built upon the success of exporting education by establishing campuses in countries other than Australia. In addition, it is possible for students to study Australian courses in other countries via distance education. In 2000, around 34,900 or 19% of all overseas students enrolled in Australian institutions were studying offshore, most commonly in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. This number has increased fourfold since 1994.

EXPENDITURE BY OVERSEAS STUDENTS IN AUSTRALIA - 2000

Type of expenditure

Fees
Goods and services
Total
Sector
$m
$m
$m

Higher education
978
1,009
1,987
Vocational education
337
376
713
School education
130
148
278
ELICOS(a)
395
323
718
Total
1,840
1,856
3,696

(a) English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students.

Source: Australian Education International, Overseas Student Statistics 2000.


After study
In some instances, the influence of overseas students on Australian society continues after they have finished their studies. Australia benefits from the immigration of former overseas students by gaining highly skilled migrants who already have an experience of Australian society. In a small survey of overseas students in higher education conducted in 1992, 47% said they planned to migrate to Australia at a later time. The main reasons they gave for this were because of the experience of studying in Australia; because of social and political conditions in their home countries; and because they had friends and relatives in Australia.5

Moreover, former overseas students wishing to migrate to Australia have the advantage of possessing Australian qualifications. Applicants for skilled visas and permanent residency grants, who hold Australian qualifications and who apply within six months of finishing their studies, do not need to have any skilled work experience as part of their application. In 1999-2000, 14% of permanent residence grants made in Australia were to holders of student visas, and in 2000-01, around 50% of applicants for skilled migration were former overseas students.7

The benefits for Australia of overseas students are felt even when students return to their home countries. Having a positive experience of studying here may encourage overseas students to 'spread the word' about Australia, resulting in benefits to tourism, foreign investment and future overseas student enrolments.

Endnotes
1 Australian Education International (AEI) 2000, Overseas Student Statistics 2000, AEI, Canberra.

2 Cameron, N. 2001, 'Australian education on top', Business Asia, vol. 9, no. 7, pp. 20-21.

3 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2001, Annual Report 2000-01, <URL: http://www.dfat.gov.au/dept/annual_reports/index.html> (accessed 14 November 2001).

4 Dobson, I.R., Hawthorne, L. and Birrell, B. 1998, 'The impact of the 'Hanson' effect and the Asian currency crisis on education exports', People and Place, vol 6, no 1, pp. 44-51.

5 Nesdale, D., Simkin, K., Sang, D., Burke, B., and Fraser, S. 1995, International Students and Immigration, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

6 Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) 2001, Students 2000: Selected Higher Education Statistics, DETYA, Canberra; and National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) 2000, Overseas Student Statistics at a Glance 1998 and 1999, NCVER, Adelaide.

7 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) 2000, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, DIMA, Canberra; and DIMA 2001, Annual Report, 2000-01, DIMA, Canberra.



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